In their fight to gain market share, consumer products manufacturers have resorted to comparative advertising, sometimes denigrating their competitors’ products. India’s courts have taken a dim view of the practice. By Chander M Lall

In today’s age of consumerism, extensive advertising campaigns are an essential component of every company’s strategy. Advertising has become a profitable business in India, as shown by the recent boom in promotional messages on highway billboards and in newspapers, magazines and the broadcast media. The proliferation of celebrity-endorsed products from soaps and mobile phones, to saris, jewellery, financial products, confectionery and more, is noticeable across all major cities.

Rivalry between multinational companies, and now foreign players in the market, has tightened competition, making it difficult for new brands to establish a market share of any significance.

Faced with these challenges, advertisers frequently use comparative strategies to convey their messages, often resulting in the denigration of a competitor’s products. With the rise of television viewing, the Indian advertising industry is witnessing the emergence of numerous comparative advertisements, many of which have resulted in legal cases concerning the alleged denigration or disparagement of other products and brands.

Market leaders victimized

In almost every court case where the issue of denigration in advertising has been raised, the alleged victim has been a market leader. New entrants have compared their merchandise with established products, presenting them in a negative light in an attempt to lure consumers away.

Since consumers are already familiar with the attributes of products promoted by established brands, comparative advertisers use that prior knowledge to their benefit when introducing their new brand.

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Chander M Lall is the Managing Partner at Lall & Sethi Advocates, a New Delhi-based IP boutique.