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New ads: battle of the brands

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About these ads

If you thought the season for attack ads ended with the election, brace yourself. These product commercials may have the patina of a friendlier tone than, say, Hillary Clinton's "3 a.m. phone call" ad, but they mean serious business in tough times. Though negative advertising carries the risk of backfiring, there's been a noticeable uptick in such campaigns, notes Emily York, a reporter for Advertising Age [Editor's note: The original version misidentified Ms. York's employer.].

"Most people will tell you it's because of the economy," says Ms. York. "There are fewer discretionary dollars out there, and you've got to sharpen up your elbows."

Of course, those elbows are covered in bubble wrap for the sake of public image. For instance, companies and advertisers prefer to label such campaigns "comparative advertising," which may seem euphemistic when the comparisons portray competitors in a bad light. To soften that blow, broadsides against another product tend to be lighthearted or couched in humor. A Campbell's ad, for example, has a caption above a can of Progresso that says, "Made with MSG," whereas its own Select Harvest is "Made with TLC."

"Comparative advertising seemed a great fit for this," says Anthony Sanzio, a spokesperson for Campbell Soup Co. "If you've looked at some of the print executions and some of the TV, it tries to have a bit of a sense of humor and a light note. I'm not sure our competitor would agree."

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