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Measuring Up

Side-by-side comparison ads can persuade prospects to buy in the blink of an eye.

Dial-up vs. DSL. Oven vs. Microwave. Horse and buggy vs. auto. Whatever the innovation, whenever the era, wherever there's been a clear difference in speed and efficiency, a comparison ad has been all-powerful. Indeed, any demonstrable advantage in convenience and/or effectiveness between your widget and that of your old-school competitors deserves to be on display, front and center.

Recently, a replacement-window salesman came to my house with an eye-opening comparison: He brought in a sample of his company's double-pane window and a sample of my single-pane window. He held them side by side and then put a heat lamp behind one, then the other. He asked me to put my hand in front of each. It was a slam-dunk demonstration of how much better a double-pane window keeps out heat.

That comparative way of getting a message across can be just as impressive on paper, as this ad demonstrates. It's a cooperative effort between BusinessWeek (where the ad appeared) and Soundview Executive Book Summaries of Concordville, Pennsylvania. And it's an A+ effort because it makes its point quickly yet persuasively.

The left side of the ad shows a photo of the business memoir Jack: Straight From the Gut (Warner Books) by former GE chairman Jack Welch, with the headline, "Approximate reading time, 8 hours 30 minutes." On the right is an image of Soundview's eight-page summary of the book with the headline, "Approximate reading time, 30 minutes." In an eye blink or two, and without reading another syllable of supporting copy, the prospect has gotten the sales message in the most compelling way possible. And the approach will work in all media-print, broadcast, broadband. Indeed, it "reads" so fast you could almost use it on billboards.

Anything your company produces that's "new and improved" compared to current or previous products or services can benefit from side-by-side comparison advertising. Unless your team has concocted some drop-dead alternative for getting attention and making your most persuasive sales point in a few seconds, comparison advertising is an intelligent way to spend your ad dollars.

Naturally, if you are mired in parity-product hell, in which your cola syrup or checking account offers pretty much what everybody else's does, another direction may be called for. But if you can demonstrate that you're better than the next guy, it's a no-brainer. Create a comparison ad for a knockout punch.


Jerry Fisher is a freelance advertising copywriter and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising.

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This article was originally published in the December 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Measuring Up.

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