How to help your competitors?

An inappropriately selected message can provoke implicit reactions that are detrimental to the advertised brand and benefit… its competitors. This problem is well illustrated by the example of one of the FMCG market leaders. The company conducted studies on the new extension of its antiperspirant line. In the opinion of the female target audience the product was effective but they also believed that it could dry out their skin. The company decided to enrich the antiperspirant with a moisturizing ingredient and communicate this fact in media. An agency created an attractive TV ad with the main theme based on a contradiction between two seemingly mutually exclusive characteristics: the ability to keep the skin dry and moisturized at the same time. The sales results were below expectations.
The company could not explain this phenomenon and decided to submit the commercial for neuro testing. The study involved only loyal users of the product (n=120). Half of them (the control group) were asked to evaluate the antiperspirant and a competitor’s product, while the other half was given the same task but had to watch the commercial first. On Likert’s scale from -2 to +2 the control group gave the product 1.3 points and the competitor’s product 0.3 points. Those women who watched the commercial first rated the product at only 0.9 points and the competitor’s product at 0.2. The commercial was apparently responsible for a decrease of 9.5 percentage points for their own product and an increase by 10.9 percentage points for the competitor’s product! It was the findings of a behavioral shelf-test, however, that were the most striking. The participants could decide whether to accept money, choose their favourite product or the competitor’s offer. 52% of the women in the control group chose the antiperspirant, 28% took the opportunity to test the competitor’s product and the remaining 20% took cash. Within the group that had watched the ad these proportions were almost entirely reversed! The number of times the participants chose their own product fell by 9.1 pp., and for the competitor’s product it increased by 24.4 pp.! Their ad did not help them but their closest competitors! Comparing the participants’ brainwave records helped explain this most surprising puzzle. We discovered that the group of women whose brains were activated at the time when the product’s packaging was shown also chose the product during the shelf test. Meanwhile, the group that focused on the information highlighting the need to moisturize skin chose the product belonging to the competitor whose advertising communication has been built around this attribute for years. This case study shows the dangers of inconsiderate use of a brand benefit which, at the subconscious level, belongs to a different brand. The company recalled its product from the market, yet had it decided to use neuro tests at an earlier stage, it might have avoided a costly mistake.