Brands in the News

The Power of Comparisons

10 Oct , 2016  

Last month, a new study came out that evaluated the impact of activity trackers such as Fitbit and Jawbone on weight loss. The conclusion was quite clear: the devices did not have a positive impact. If anything, they actually made things worse. According to the study, people lost more weight without them. You can read the article here.

The report received considerable attention. CNN covered the story with the headline, “Could your fitness tracker sabotage your diet?” Here is the article. The Guardian, a UK newspaper, reported “Fitness trackers may not aid weight loss.” CBS proclaimed, “Study participants without fitness trackers lost more weight, researchers say.”

Lost in all of the excitement, however, was an important point. The study compared people who wore a tracker to people who recorded their activity in a diary or on a website. Both groups were monitoring and recording information. The difference was how people recorded it.

The analysis didn’t compare people who used a monitoring device to people who did no tracking at all. This is the more interesting question because I suspect people fall into one of two categories: they either wear a device or don’t monitor their activity.

People are probably more active and lose weight when they monitor things. The most convenient way to monitor is with a device. What most people concluded from the study—that the devices hindered weight loss—was simply incorrect.

Creative Comparisons

This situation shows the power of creative comparisons. There is no question that looking at things side by side is a useful technique. The approach answers a common question, “Which is better?” It is a logical way to analyze options.

We have to consider, though, what we are comparing.

One way to highlight a benefit is to compare your product against a clearly inferior competitor. You don’t have to name the brand, you can just say, “Compared to other brands, we are vastly superior.”

This is what Kraft Foods did several years back in the processed cheese slice business. To highlight the quality of its product, Kraft ran ads explaining that while some cheese slices were made with oil, Kraft used real milk. It was a powerful campaign and it worked. The interesting dimension is that Kraft wasn’t comparing itself to its biggest competitors. They were made with milk, too. Kraft was looking at a few private label products with limited distribution.

A comparison can even work against a fictional product. Politicians often favor this approach. A candidate will sometimes proclaim, “Now some people want to let people starve on the streets. I oppose this. I believe people should have enough food and water to live. I refuse to give in to that sort of negative thinking.” The fact that nobody actually wants to let people starve on the streets is a detail that is conveniently left out.


There are three implications from this.

First, marketers should look for opportunities to setup a comparison that demonstrates superiority. It can be a highly effective approach for differentiating a brand.

Second, we need to look at things carefully. Knowing that something is better than something else is of no value unless you know what people are actually comparing.

Third, it really is time to get a fitness tracker.

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