Comparative advertising: even Fiat were at it in the 80s

Written by Kurt | Friday, 26 August 2011 11:13

FiatFord1Some time ago we had an article on Audi and BMW doing a top trumps game in the US by 'attacking' each other in their advertising and trying to convince us over the inferiority of the other's products. Comparative advertising basically, which in many countries is not allowed (anymore). Interesting to note is that this kind of behaviour among car manufacturers has been going on for ages. That it's nothing new is proven by this two-page spread you see here in this post. Found in a 1981 issue of the UK 'Motor' magazine this Fiat ad shows how comparative advertising was done in the old days. Basically with a bit more style (and wit). Fiat even take the courtesy to tell us that the Ford Cortina is a very good car!

Nowadays a compliment in the highly competitive environment that is the car market would be unthinkable, even the notion of saying something like that would make the hair on marketing directors' backs stand on end, they would think it is commercial suicide. But, is it really? Fiat didn't do too badly with the Mirafiori (1974-1984) featured in this ad, they produced 1,513,800 units in total. Admittedly Ford managed to shift about 1 million Cortinas in the UK alone with a shorter production span.

Still, does the idea that making a compliment to a competitor in advertising is commercial suicide really make sense? I beg to differ, it might even give customers a sense of sympathy towards the brand that compliments. It shows the customers the company is grown up and can handle critique, it's a self-conscious brand and perhaps even a bit more trustworthy as a result. Important, certainly with complex technical products like cars.


Going back to the advertisement, it seems Fiat has tried exactly that. But, compliments aside, Fiat really tried to convince the customer why their Mirafiori 1600CL is so good and much better than the Ford Cortina. Not by slagging off the other brand like Audi or BMW in the US, but by actually giving facts and convince potential customers that their car is better. Example:

"You'll notice quite a few little extras not found on a Cortina 1600GL. An FM stereo radio, a rev counter, a five speed gearbox and an adjustable steering column, for example."

True comparative advertising then! In the end though the advertisement does end on a bit of a low note for the Fiat, as they admit that the Cortina: "has 3.8 cms more headroom in the rear." That's what would you would call an anti-climax I guess! Totally undermining the whole point, which is convincing customers, of the ad in the end, better leave it to the Germans..