Competition & Combative Advertising

“Competition and Combative Advertising: An Historical Analysis,” by Fred Beard, University of Oklahoma, was published in the September issue of Journal of Macromarketing.  

Professor Beard has contributed some additional information about the article.

Who is the target audience for this article?

Scholars and researchers with interests in business, advertising and economics.

What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

I’ve been doing research on advertising history for several years and recently began a program of research on the topic of comparative advertising. As I studied the words and writings of business executives dating to the beginning of the 20th century, I realized that comparative advertising was an expression of advertisers’ beliefs about competition and whether to confront it directly or, preferably, ignore it. Comparative advertising is the most aggressive form of combative advertising.

Were there findings that were surprising to you?

Advertising executives and practitioners have debated the effectiveness of the hard versus soft sell for about a century. Aggressively combative advertising is probably the hardest sell of all, although that notion had never been expressed that way prior to the findings of this study. Also, advertisers often attack their competitors with combative and comparative advertising, and they often regret it.

How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

The study adds to a growing body of theoretical, empirical and historical research supporting the conclusion that competition does not always have positive outcomes, at either the microeconomic or macroeconomic levels.

How does this study fit into your body of work/line of research?

I came to the topic of combative advertising and competition by way of comparative advertising, and comparative advertising by way of satirical humor in advertising. While writing a book on humor in advertising, I discovered that advertisers often employ humor in comparative ads. The result is satire. I then discovered that very little historical research had been done on why advertisers choose to confront their competitors directly in advertising. The risks associated with this tactic are substantial.

How did your paper change during the review process?

I was privileged (and challenged) to have two historians review my work, both of whom had a depth of knowledge and interest in advertising history.

My initial goal was to explore the potential of economic theory as an explanation for professional beliefs and behaviors. These two reviewers proposed other aspects of historical context and professional thought as additional explanations for competition in advertising. Their suggestions took the research to a deeper and more interesting level than it otherwise would have gone. A third reviewer pointed to a problem with how the theoretical aspects of the original manuscript were communicated. That concern led to a stronger clarification of the important role that theory played in the research. Finally, and after acceptance of the work, the editor asked for one more revision to clarify the research purpose, findings and conclusions. This was needed because additional background, added at the recommendations of reviewers, had diffused the original focus of the study.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this again?

I can honestly say, not a thing. It is, of course, not unusual to discover that the conduct of a piece of social scientific research (survey, content analysis, experiment) could have been accomplished faster, cheaper, etc. For me, historical research is different. Once I’ve identified and collected a body of primary and secondary sources, my goal is to get out of the way and simply tell the story of what the actors did, why they did it, and what happened as a result.

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