General Question

sferik's avatar

Why don't corporations use negative advertising?

Asked by sferik (6074 points ) January 9th, 2008

Popular wisdom among American political advisers holds that negative advertising or “attack ads” are very effective. I’m talking about ads that say bad things about an opponent, as opposed to good things about oneself.

My question is, why do you think this type of advertising is relegated to politics? If it works so well, why don’t we see Coke slinging mud at Pepsi?

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29 Answers

gooch's avatar

its against the law

DryaUnda's avatar

Business do sling mud, but only through indirect references. My guess is that more direct mudslinging is eschewed out of a desire to avoid lawsuits.

Response moderated
Perchik's avatar

Something I was reading recently said that people are reacting more negatively toward mud-slinging campaigns. That is, people are finding them more annoying or immoral. That probably has nothing to do with corporations, but it is worth keeping in mind.

sferik's avatar

Which law prevents corporations from using negative advertising? I’ve never heard of that. Why is it allowed in politics if it’s successfully regulated in business?

andrew's avatar

IANAL, but my guess is that it’s not economically feasible ot run negative ads. Either:

1. The laws governing “libel” or “false claims” are much stricter when dealing with products, copyrights, and corporations

and/or (more likely)

2. You’re talking about a much longer timeframe when you’re advertising products or brands… it’s infeasible for a candidate to take legal recourse against an attack ad (because by the time you even filed the paperwork the issue would be moot), whereas a lot of corporate lawyers at Pepsi would enjoy huge Christmas bonuses should Coke run an attack ad. Why take the economic risk of spending half a million on an ad and then risk additional litigation costs?

…which brings me to:

3. It’s a different market. I think part of the reason attack ads work so well in the political arena is because there are a small handful of clearly defined “brands” in the market—and usually tearing down one candidate will cause people to choose a different one. The only time an attack ad would work on the corporate side is if there are only a few clearly distinguishable brands in a space, and even then I don’t think that translates into a broader market—if you make people think “Wow, Pepsi stinks”, it doesn’t translate into them buying a coke.

The closest you’re going to get to attack ads on the corporate side are the Apple ads.

Perchik's avatar

In a sense the apple ads ARE negative advertising, and imho, they’re very effective in turning people on to mack.

hossman's avatar

Political advertising is accorded greater free speech protections. Also, political candidates are public figures, thus under federal case precedent (NY Times v. Sullivan), negative comments are not actionable for libel or slander.

chaosrob's avatar

Ads that make a negative claim about a competitive product would have to meet absurd standards of evidence to avoid violating statues governing libel, slander, defamation, restraint of trade, etc. It’s not cost effective. In some markets (like pharmaceuticals, for example), you literally have to present research references to bolster any claims of superiority or inferiority or you can’t lawfully make the claim. And, ultimately, consumers don’t historically react as well to brawls among brands as they do to other pitches. All things considered, the harshest thing you usually see is a comparison in which your product is preferred to the competition.

sumul's avatar

In addition to what’s been written above, I think corporations are also very careful about not paying for their competitors’ names to be printed or broadcast, even in negative advertising. The idea that “any publicity is good publicity” has its merits. We’ve all heard ads that reference the competition as “the other leading brand” or whatever.

jonno's avatar

The reason it works in politics is because people have to make a conscious decision about who to vote for. When these political ads are “negative advertising” they usually only state facts that make the opposition seem bad. You can’t argue with facts. Though it could be considered negative advertising – it’s public scrutiny (unless what they’re saying is untrue).

When corporatings do it, it has a chance of backfiring. I imagine consumers won’t think highly of a product if all the company does is pay out the competitor.

And besides, what bad things could something like Coca-Cola say about Pepsi that is true? Not much, except that (from their perspective) their drink tastes great. And this is what Coca-Cola generally advertise, that their drink tastes great, and therefore (indirectly) tastes better than any other drink (such as Pepsi).

RIGGORYU's avatar

its not very proffesional in the eyes of a business man.

Perchik's avatar

…and it’s considered professional by politicians?

hossman's avatar

A certain degree of aggressiveness is considered acceptable, and perhaps even desirable, in politics.

And negative advertising can hurt the advertiser. To use a hypothetical example, if Coke does a series of negative ads against Pepsi, and Pepsi consumers turn away from soda and drink tap water, Coke loses money.

segdeha's avatar

Actually, they do. It’s called FUD.

Vincentt's avatar

segdeha, true, but that’s not really advertising, mostly just statements.

Edit: Scrap that, of course there’s Microsoft’s Get The Facts campaign.

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ironhiway's avatar

There’s a cell phone company that makes fun of 3 competitors in a negative way.

sferik's avatar

Which company? What do they say?

andrew's avatar

That’d be Alltel.

Perchik's avatar

I just saw a Net10 commercial that flat out called Virgin Mobile “evil”.

(I believe this is the link, but my sound card is fried so I cant hear it to know for sure)

ironhiway's avatar

Thanks Andrew I couldn’t remember the name.

steelmarket's avatar

The most effective advertising sells the dream, not the product itself. McDonalds does not sell burgers, they sell fun. Orkin does not sell insecticide, they sell home health. Negative advertising is usually features vs features, and very few ads today even compare features.

jballou's avatar

There is plenty of negative advertising among corporations (Alltel comes to mind, as does Comcast, DirectTv, Paper towel commercials) but there are two main reasons it isn’t totally relevant to use.

1. You don’t have to choose. You can buy both Coke and Pepsi. No one is going to care. You can eat at both McDonald’s and Burger King- they’re not going to stop you. One of the biggest driving forces behind modern advertising is NOT directly correlated to sales numbers. And in most cases there is a clear market leader who is damn near impossible to unseat. In the foreseeable future, Coke will dominate the cola market. Period. So since commercials and billboards don’t necessarily translate into money- their point switches from Hard Sell (which is what political advertising is) to making you feel good about them. A.K.A Branding

2. This is the second reason you don’t see a whole ton of negative ads for corporation or products. They are all engaged in branding, which means if you see something related to them you may associate them with that brand. So while McDonald’s is trying to be cool, health-conscious, and open- Burger King is off being quirky, funny, and hip. There would be no reason for Burger King to attack McDonald’s outright in an ad because they’re legally limited in what they’re allowed to say, and they would only be damaging their own brand. And for the people who do swipe at the competition (As Comcast does against AT&T) they usually do so in an intentionally humorous way.

CAQUE's avatar

The latest Burger King commercials are using the same strategy as the PEPSI Challenge, in BK ads they have gone to far away lands to find a whopper virgin and are testing the flavor of a whopper vs a Big Mac, and off course the virgin chooses the WHOPPER as better tasting, this is an indirect negative ad against the BIG MAC.

There are other forms of negative messaging, such as those related to health issues and illnesses which we see very little ads on. The experts say and the research shows that some negative ads actually can create the opposite effect in consumers. For example: Anti-Tobacco ads may actually be creating more awareness and desire for cigarettes. Anti-obesity ads tend to be perceived as negative messages that cause social problems and encourage discrimination.

There are serious social and consumption behaviors that are causing the demise of our society, especially when it pertains to our health. Yet the authorities in these issues are afraid to highlight the negative aspect of our own behavior for fear of alienating, stereotyping or offending any segment of the population. They know we need to change our behavior or we will have irreversible consequences. Yet how do you do this effectively? How do you create the highest consciousness and impact without highlighting the negative consequences?

disturdia's avatar

its againsted the law duh

Noel_S_Leitmotiv's avatar

In the case of Honda Motor Co. it was a matter of respect:

Soichiro Honda mandated to his advertisers that they would not even mention the competition in their ads in the interest of boing honorable. This has changed some since his death in the early ‘90’s.

Rude_Bear's avatar

What about the “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” commercials. Apple certainly makes the PCs look inept.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

Often it is the result a gentleman’s agreement.

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