Who’s Naughty, Who’s Nice, and Who Wins?


Until I was doing some research for this post, it never occurred to me how absolutely saturated the marketing world is in negative campaigns. I’d become so desensitized to it that it didn’t even register with me anymore.

Maybe you’ve had a similar experience.

Not sure what I mean by negative marketing? It’s an election year, so look no further than current political campaigns. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have a hard time discerning what the candidates actually stand for because they spend so much time calling each other out. Candidate X’s commercials are all about what a terrible person Candidate Y is and Candidate Y’s advertisements are all about making sure everyone knows how Candidate X will ruin the country.

The automobile industry is another one that, while brands focus on the positives of their own models, they’re telling us in the same breath why choosing their competitors would be akin to willingly choosing a ticking time bomb as our daily drivers.

Scare tactics and fear and whatnot.

Then you’ve got ads like this Prudential one:

This isn’t overtly negative, but Prudential definitely took a risk because the ad can be quite alienating. Why would they assume you dislike your neighbors or your neighborhood? It’s a subtle focus on the negative.

In fact, just recently, Strong4Life created quite a controversy with its images of obese children. While the campaign was meant to raise awareness of childhood obesity, many claimed the images were too negative.

Ads for this campaign included images of obese children with captions such as, “It’s hard to be a little girl when you aren’t,” and “Chubby kids may not outlive their parents,” among others.

Let’s be clear about something: while these ads definitely focus on the negative, they do grab your attention and make you pay attention. In that aspect, negative marketing strategies can be quite useful. Some degree of fear can work when you’re considering the marketing psychology. Many would argue that these Strong4Life ads were successful given the sheer amount of conversation they generated. That shows awareness, which is what they’re aiming for.

On the other hand, you have positive marketing techniques (though, because fear seems to be the hot method right now, they aren’t as prevalent as they maybe once were). My favorite of these is Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty. Instead of having women focus on their flaws, Dove challenges them to embrace their curves and everything else that makes them who they are.

All of this holds true with content marketing, too. Every day, there are blogs and other types of content that are created to focus on the negative and scare people into taking a certain action. While this can work for you, you need to be careful with how you approach it. A healthy dose of controversy can be a wonderful thing for your content strategy, but make sure you don’t overdo it.

Remember, too, that negative marketing is a slippery slope. If you engage in it, it’s very easy for it to turn ugly very fast. Again, refer back to political campaigns.

So, then, positive marketing is always going to be a reliable option, but fear and other negative marketing techniques can be dangerous. With all of that in mind, how do we know when it’s better to just stay above the fray?

If you’ve become the target of someone else’s negative marketing techniques, your first instinct might be to retaliate; but there’s that slippery slope. Once you do that, you’re opening a can of worms, and who knows what will happen next? If you find yourself in a public battle with another brand, each one smearing the other back and forth at every opportunity, that’s not going to bode well for your business.

Instead, and keeping with that example, becoming a target of someone else’s negative marketing can actually be a great opportunity for your content marketing. Write blog posts and create other content that address the accusations without calling your competitor into a brawl. Dispel it, stay above it, and maintain your reputation. You do that, and you’re the winner.

What are some of the most memorable positive and negative marketing and advertisement campaigns you’ve seen? Would you agree that negative marketing is becoming more prevalent these days? Let us know in the comments!

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Renee is a writer currently living in Central Pennsylvania (whatever you've heard is probably true). In addition to writing for CEM, she serves as the Managing Editor for Business 2 Community and pursues her dream of once again renting her own apartment (preferably in Philadelphia), if only to house her ever-growing collection of books. She received a BA in English from Susquehanna University and an MA in English from George Mason. She's still waiting for someone to write a song about her life so she can just quote the lyrics for her author bios. Catch up with her on Twitter , LinkedIn, or reneedecoskey.com.

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