Corporate Eye

A Brand Restraining Order for a Comparative Advertising No-No

valerie_bertinelliDid you know that one brand can get a restraining order on another brand?  Now, before you say, “only in New York,” let’s take a look at all the facts.

  • Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig are intense competitors in the weight loss industry.
  • Jenny Craig (owned by Nestle) released a television commercial that claimed people who use the Jenny Craig weight loss system lose twice as much weight as people who use the Weight Watchers weight loss system.
  • In the Jenny Craig ad, celebrity spokesperson Valerie Bertinelli read a script that stated the comparison claim was based on a scientific study.
  • Weight Watchers filed a lawsuit stating the Jenny Craig claim is false and citing evidence that the claim was based on two different studies (which both intended to research something different than a Weight Watchers comparison), conducted 10 years apart and based on an ‘older’ Weight Watchers weight loss system.
  • The court ruled in Weight Watchers’ favor believing the Jenny Craig claims ‘were not supportable’ and gave Weight Watchers International a temporary restraining order against Jenny Craig.  Weight Watchers wants the ad pulled and seeks monetary damages.
  • We can assume an appeal will follow based on a precedent-setting case in 2009 related to false claims about Activa in Dannon Yogurt, which was settled for $35 million.

So those are the facts.  What do you think?

There is no doubt that comparative advertising can work.  It’s been around for a long time.  In fact, today’s comparative advertising is tame in comparison to claims from half a century ago (or more).  Of course, not all comparative advertising is equal.  In fact, some of it is quite extreme (‘attack advertising’).  You can read more about my views on comparative advertising in this post on Corporate Eye.

The bottom-line is this: now that the precedent has been set, I think it’s safe to assume that the number of brand or advertising restraining orders could grow.  It’s certainly food for thought when creating your own ad campaigns.  The long term damage that comparative advertising can cause to your brand just might outweigh the short term gains.

Image: Flickr

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for Entrepreneur.com and Forbes.com, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as MSNBC.com, BusinessWeek.com, TodayShow.com, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.
 
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