Comparative advertising - What are the regulations?

Comparative advertising is a marketing strategy favored by advertisers worldwide, France included, to stand out in a competitive market. But to what extent is comparative advertising permitted in France? Let's take a look at the advantages of comparative advertising, and the legal framework for its use in France.

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Article summary: Comparative advertising - What are the regulations?

  1. What is comparative advertising?
  2. How can brands benefit from comparative advertising?
  3. Comparative advertising regulations and best practices
  4. Examples of successful comparative advertising


What is comparative advertising?

Comparative advertising is a fairly straightforward form of communication: it compares the products or services, whether explicitly or implicitly identified, of two competing companies or brands.

Long banned in France, comparative advertising has only been authorized in the country since 1992, within the strict framework established by legislation to prevent brand abuse. Indeed, until the law was relaxed in 2001, advertisers using comparative advertising had to submit their advertising project to their competitor(s).

The aim of this advertising practice is to help consumers make informed decisions by highlighting the differences and competitive advantages of a product in relation to its competitors. Comparative advertising enables brands to stand out in a competitive market.

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How can brands benefit from comparative advertising?

Comparative advertising has many advantages for brands. First and foremost, it enables advertisers to present their products or services in the best possible light, highlighting positive differences from those of their competitors. 

By highlighting competitive advantages, they can convince consumers that their product is the best choice on the market. This differentiation from the competition can also improve brand awareness among consumers, especially if the comparison is hard-hitting, while instilling a sense of trust among consumers.

On the other hand, comparative advertising actively encourages consumers to compare products before making a purchasing decision, enabling them to make more informed choices. And by highlighting the benefits of its products over the competition, a brand can create a sense of urgency and opportunity, making it easier for consumers to take action, i.e. buy. In fact, private labels from large and medium-sized retailers reported a 7.3% increase in sales in 2020, compared with 2019, after using comparative advertising*.

*Source : The Conversation

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Comparative advertising regulations and best practices

For comparative advertising to be broadcast in France, it must meet a certain number of legal requirements: 

  • it must not be misleading or deceptive in nature
  • it may only feature products or services that meet the same needs or objectives
  • it must objectively compare the essential, relevant, verifiable and representative characteristics of the products or services.

Furthermore, when a product benefits from a protected appellation of origin or geographical indication, it can only be compared with products that benefit from the same appellation or geographical indication.

Furthermore, it must not bring another brand into disrepute, denigrate it or present a product as an imitation. Creating a legal comparative advertisement is therefore one of the most perilous exercises an advertiser can undertake.

French law also defines the media on which advertisers may not place their comparative ads:

  • packaging, 
  • invoices,
  • transport tickets, 
  • means of payment,
  • tickets for shows or places open to the public.

This means that it can be used on traditional communication media: TV, press, billboards, radio, displays, etc.

In the interests of transparency, advertisers using comparative advertising must be able to prove the accuracy of their advertising content within a short timeframe.

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Examples of successful comparative advertising

Two products, two atmospheres

Comparing the qualities of a product to a reference brand is a strategy adopted by all supermarket chains. White background, two products side by side... there's nothing to distinguish these ads, except perhaps the argument that the advertiser's product is the best or the cheapest. This simplicity has the merit of allowing consumers to concentrate on the objective of these ads: comparison.

Leclerc and direct comparison

Leclerc is another example of a supermarket chain that has made comparative advertising a cornerstone of its communications. In this spot broadcast in 2021, the retailer highlights its range of products of French origin and compares them directly with those of other chains (Auchan, Carrefour, etc.), without giving prices. What consumers remember is that Leclerc is on average less expensive than its competitors. Nevertheless, the brand gives consumers the opportunity to see this difference for themselves in the text banner that scrolls across the bottom of the screen: "More information and details of prices and store formats on".

Lidl and the art of indirect comparison

Lidl has excelled in indirect comparative advertising with its "On est mal patron" (We're in trouble, boss) campaign for the past ten years. This series of TV commercials features an anonymous "competitor" of the brand who discovers the advantageous prices and innovations of the Lidl store. Lidl doesn't need to say that its brand is the best, its competitor does that for it.

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