The New York Times - Companies that were once content to fight in grocery-store aisles and on television commercials are now choosing a different route — filing lawsuits and other formal grievances challenging their competitors’ claims. Longtime foes like Pantene and Dove, Science Diet and Iams, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, and Campbell Soup and Progresso have all wrestled over ads recently.
The goal is usually not money but market share. Companies file complaints to get competitors’ ads withdrawn or amended.
The cases themselves might seem a little absurd — an argument over hyped-up advertising copy that not many consumers even take at face value. Pantene has attacked Dove’s claim that its conditioner “repairs” hair better, and Iams has been challenged on one of its lines, “No other dog food stacks up like Iams.”
Dueling advertisers, however, argue that these claims can mislead consumers and cause a pronounced drop in sales. Since advertisers are required by law to have a reasonable factual basis for their commercials, their competitors are essentially demanding that they show their hand.
The increase in these actions may be a reflection of the dismal economy: in recessions, when overall spending lags, advertisers must fight harder for customers. “In this economy, where margins are a bit tighter, a lot of marketing departments have decided to become more aggressive in going after their competitors in the hopes that they can either protect their market position or capture additional market share,” said John E. Villafranco, a law partner at Kelley, Drye & Warren who specializes in advertising.