We are all used to advertisers showing their products as superior among competitors. But a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that it's not a bad idea for marketers to offer comparisons that show their brand is equal to the competitor in some dimensions—parity information.
In fact, authors Prashant Malaviya (Georgetown University) and Brian Sternthal (Northwestern University) discovered that offering parity information in the right dose can positively affect consumers' attitudes toward products.
The researchers tested ads of various configurations to investigate the delicate art of when and where to include parity information. They discovered that reaction to parity information, its timing and placement, differed for consumers with different purchasing goals. The effectiveness of including parity information depended on the consumer's mindset. Consumers with achievement goals evaluated the target brand more favorably when the features were presented over time—not all in one ad, enabling them to accomplish the goal of thoughtfully evaluating the product. For these consumers, marketers ideally would offer the comparison information in a series of ads.
Participants who wanted to avoid unwise purchases (safety purchasers) were more persuaded by ads that presented the comparison information all at once. For these consumers, the presentation of parity information at the start resulted in more favorable target evaluations than when researchers presented just the two dominant features. And for these consumers, presenting all the features sequentially resulted in the least-favorable evaluations.
"These results imply that parity features in comparative advertising enhance brand evaluation if the information is presented in a manner that is consistent with the audiences' accomplishment or safety goal," write the authors. "If it is not, parity features either do not enhance evaluations or they can undermine them. These outcomes occur even though the ads present the same decision-relevant information, suggesting that how information is presented can have an independent enhancing or undermining effect on brand evaluations."