Companies naturally want to convince people that their products are better than the competition, but when it comes to advertisements, making direct comparisons between competing products can be tricky. Ad campaigns must step lightly around potential issues with the verifiability of claims, liability, and trademark laws. For example, while it’s OK to say your product is the “best,” it’s not OK to say it’s “better” than a specific competitor unless you have clear evidence on exactly what makes it better. Attempts to play on trademarked phrases can also backfire. McDonald’s once sued Burger King over an ad for the Whopper that read “It’s not just Big, Mac” and won by showing that some people were confused by the ad into thinking that they could get a Big Mac at Burger King. To get in a good jab at the competition, you’ve got to be indirect, but not so indirect that your audience won’t pick up on it at all. Here are eight ad taglines that found a way to sneakily ding the competition
1. Sweet’N Low: "For millions of people, there’s just no equal"
When artificial sweetener rival Equal came along, Sweet’N Low started using this subtle dig in their commercials. When Splenda entered the market and started gunning for the number 1 spot, they dropped it in favor of a tagline from the pre-Equal days, “Wherever you go, Sweet’N Low.”
2. DHL: "Yellow. It’s the new brown."
No need to mention UPS directly. DHL is merely talking about the benefits of its vibrant banana color scheme and how much better it is than that muddier, blander other one. Right?
3. Dunkin’ Donuts: "Delicious lattes from Dunkin' Donuts. You order them in English."
Why wouldn’t you order them in English? That would be crazy. But according to this commercial, there do exist some places that do make you order your coffee in a bizarre, made-up language. Wonder who they could be talking about? (Side note: I guess this commercial marks the moment when “latte” acquired full English-word status.)
4. Virgin Atlantic: "Keep Discovering – Until You Find the Best."
When Virgin Atlantic started service from London to Dubai they advertised it with the slogan “Keep Discovering – Until You Find the Best.” That’s not sneaky at all—until you realize that “Keep Discovering” is the slogan for Emirates Airlines.
5. Samsung: "It doesn’t take a genius."
Samsung chose the indirect way to claim the Galaxy phone was better than an iPhone by turning Apple’s Genius Bar concept around on them.
6. Verizon: "There’s a map for that."
Verizon also took a swing at Apple, who has a trademark on “there’s an app for that,” back in the days when you could only get iPhone service through AT&T. In this commercial they tout the superior broad coverage of their network with a twist on one of Apple’s taglines.
7. Audi vs. BMW: "Your move/Checkmate/Your pawn is no match for our king/Game over."
When you do decide to take on your competitors by name, you’d better be ready to keep upping your game. When Audi erected a billboard in L.A. with the cheeky tagline “Your move, BMW,” BMW responded with a confident “Checkmate” on its own billboard. Not ready to give up yet, Audi replied with “Your pawn is no match for our king” over a picture of their most exotic model. BMW’s response was to attach a zeppelin to the billboard on which was printed a photo of one of their Formula 1 racecars and the words “Game Over,” which pretty much put the matter to bed, without them ever deigning to print the word “Audi.”
8. Nintendo: "Why did the hedgehog cross the road? To get to Super Mario Land 2."
In the '90s ad battle between game companies Sega and Nintendo, Sega used the more aggressive approach, calling out its competitor by name with the inelegant “Genesis does what Nintendon’t.” Nintendo used the subtle approach here, not mentioning its competitor’s name or even the name of its game character (just a generic hedgehog…), but still getting the message across.