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A middle-aged, middle American man approaches a taste test booth in a supermarket and crunches into a Pringles. We see the color of the competitive product (yellow) but no brand. “So, sir, which tastes better?” the market researcher asks? “Oh, the Pringles taste better,” the man says. “Is that because they’re less greasy?” the research asks. “No, just taste better,” the man says, eating another Pringles and smiling. “You know, a lot of people love these cans,” the research says, “maybe it’s the can you like?” The man looks down at the Pringles can, picks it up and takes a bite out of it. “No. It’s not the can,” he says, “It’s the Pringles.” The researcher smiles uneasily. The shot cuts to the Pringles logo and the voiceover says, “Pringles, they just taste better.”
This looks like a commercial but it is actually a war. Frito-Lay (owned by Pepsi) is the 800 pound gorilla of the snack aisle, devouring everything in its sight. Procter&Gamble is the granddaddy of packaged goods firms, the sine qua non of consumer marketing as we know it today. A giant in the laundry and housecleaning aisles, Pringles is one of P&G’s few strong products on the snack aisle. So when Frito-Lay launched Stax and started attacking Pringles on taste, they were attacking P&G where it hurt. In this spot, P&G fights back.
This is the strongest form of comparative ad – a superiority claim ad. P&G says about Pringles what Coca-Cola could not say about Pepsi when attacked by the Pepsi Challenge – Pringles tastes better. The ad does a clever job of reinforcing this point. First of all, after the man first crunches in to a Pringles, we immediately see that half of his attention has been lost to the tasting experience. He is answering the researcher but not really fully engaging with him. This is a good subliminal message about the Pringles experience. Next, notice that once the man eats the Pringles, he keeps eating. That also reinforces the taste experience. The sound of the Pringles crunching is very distinct, very well engineered. The researchers other questions are all foils to show the better attributes of Pringles (non-greasy, great can). And when we get the claim at the end – they just taste better – it is a strong and unambiguous statement.
But that’s only half the job of this ad. The second part is to keep us engaged and make the spot memorable. That’s where the surprising and distinctive image of the man eating the Pringles can really works. It fits perfectly with the overall message of the spot but is memorable and distinctive.
This is classic Procter&Gamble advertising in fine form.
In a war, you can’t just focus on your plans – you need to think about what the other side is doing. Pringles is the category leader and they’ve just admitted some weakness here by taking a direct shot at Stax. Now it is true that P&G hasn’t made the classic mistake of naming the competition (and thereby validating it.) However they do come pretty close and consumers in this category will not be confused about who they’re referring to.
So while this spot is effective, we do need to ask the question – what will Frito-Lay do to respond? The world of comparison testing is not as simple as it might appear on the surface. There are many ways to run these tests and different ways of asking the question of how something tastes. Do you offer one chip, or does the respondent eat 10 or 20 (where the relative saltiness might be more of a factor)? Is the chip eaten alone, or enjoyed with a soda?
So P&G shouldn’t be surprised if Frito-Lay responds with a superiority claim of its own for Stax. The trick then is that consumers will get confused. And if consumers get confused, they will start to think of the products as being the same. And the moment consumers think of the products as the same, they’ll start buying on price. Which will start a pricing war and turn the category into a commodity category. Which will be good for neither P&G nor Frito-Lay. So P&G is running a real risk with this spot – one they are smart enough to have weighed.
Branding Bottom Line:
P&G launches a shot across the bow of Frito-Lay.