Ask anyone their feelings about comparison advertising, and they typically think of political attack ads. As we know from "geniuses" like Lee Atwater, Roger Ailes, and Karl Rove, these ads aren't often elegant - but they sure do work. Yet, consumers hate them.
In radio, we have long grappled with these same issues. Oftentimes, we'd love to go after a competitor - a goofy Jack station, that dopey AC station that plays the same 113 songs over and over again, or that sports station with no local hosts.
But the conundrum, of course, is how to pull this off without promoting a competitor, looking cheesy in the process, or simply misfiring. That's why you have to love those Mac versus Windows (or Microsoft) TV commercials that use two actors that personify each of the operating systems.
Why do these commercials work? They are funny and light-hearted, each actor clearly personifies the vibe of the computer he represents (stodgy versus cool - sort of like Gates vs. Jobs). But most importantly, they resonate because they are truthful. As we watch them, we shake out heads in agreement - Mac users do so snootily, while Windows customers do so somewhat remorsefully. And everyone agrees with the premises in these spots because they reflect our own experiences with each system.
Apple did its homework. You cannot compare until you understand. This is why companies conduct research - to learn precisely what consumers are thinking. Everything the Apple guy says about Macs (and inferentially about Windows) has the ring of truth because users experience these problems every day. All these commercials do is exploit what we already believe, but do it in a way that isn't (too) vicious. They work because they combine humor with hard, deep-set believes.
There's no reason why radio stations couldn't pull off some of the same basic comparison ads But we need to expand beyond the "We won't make you sit through this..." approach or showing the number of songs we played today versus the other guy.
Research the competition first. Find out their vulnerabilities. Find out our strengths. If there's actually something there, create the ads. Test the ads. Repeat these steps.