Apples to Oranges

In 2016, there were 2.1 billion smartphone users, which means about 30% of the world’s population uses a smartphone.

For the longest time, the two leading smartphone brands were United States-based Apple and South Korea’s Samsung.

When you think of a modern smartphone, there’s a fairly rigid set of features needed to qualify: a touch screen, internet access, a marketplace to download additional programs, a built-in camera. For better or worse, the only differences in smartphones are the form factor and the quality of the equipment.

When technology enters widespread use, regular people begin to debate the advantages of certain brands. The aperture of the camera doesn’t matter, nor the resolution of the screen, but they will use these as talking points in trying to prove their favoured brand’s superiority.

This was certainly the case in the console war of the early 1990s.

Sega entered the video game market with the Genesis (the overseas name for the Mega Drive), which was capable of 16-bit processing. The biggest competition in the market at the time was Nintendo, supporting the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System.

Engaging in comparative advertising has traditionally been considered to be cheap and in poor taste - marketers are meant to compare product positions, not attack other products or their competitors - but that’s exactly what Sega did, creating the catchphrase “Genesis does what Nintendon’t”. Their market position was simply that they weren’t Nintendo.

Despite the bluster, the campaign was rooted in reality; from a hardware perspective, the Genesis was factually superior to the NES in every way. The timing of the introduction to the market was also prescient, as it took Nintendo a further two years from the debut of the Genesis to bring the Super Nintendo Entertainment System to North America.

About ten years ago, Apple ran a very beloved and successful campaign - “Get A Mac”, which AdWeek called the best advertising campaign of the 2000s.

Actor Justin Long and comedian John Hodgman stood in front of a white backdrop as the personification of a Mac and a PC.

In 66 spots over three years, the two compared their functions and features.

On paper, this seems like direct comparative advertising - but it only seemed like it.

Apple poked fun at the shortcomings of and frustrations with PCs - like needing drivers and getting viruses - in order to reinforce their own position.

They painted themselves as the choice for creatives, able to make movies and photo albums right out of the box, at a time when creating media for the web, like blogs and podcasts, was entering mainstream popularity.

In comparing Macs to PCs, TBWA created a similar frame of reference as Sega.

PCs can do all sorts of great professional stuff, and Macs can do what they can’t.

It didn’t matter that the comparison wasn’t the point - it was merely pretext.

The best marketing - what we should all strive to do - finds something unique about a product, something that none of its competitors to attest to, and runs with that advantage.

Sometimes, though - as with Bill Bernbach’s classic Avis ads - a point of comparison is exactly what a campaign needs.

Direct comparisons are tacky, so many marketers shy away from them.

But normal people compare things all the time. They will endlessly debate the merits of one product versus another - whether that’s technology, notebooks, even hamburgers.

This is beyond the control of any company or campaign.

If you don’t do everything you can to secure your position, you’ll leave that position more open to interpretation.

It wouldn’t matter if your product was functionally identical to your competitors.

A normal person would still try to compare apples to oranges.