Why it's time for brands to abandon negative messaging

We investigate why marketers needs to tune into positive psychology for better engagement

At a time of increased competition in almost every industry, getting messaging cut through has never been more important. And yet, as marketers increasingly personalise and try to engage with targeting, the consumer has never been more zoned out.

Why is this? One psychologist says the constant stream of negative messaging and a fear-focused media has caused consumers to simply switch off. To get that all important cut through, she argues positive marketing messaging is the way forward.

The example CEO and founder of the Langley Group, Sue Langley, always uses is the seat belt commercial used in the UK by Sussex Safer Roads Partnership.

"This framed car safety messaging as being about love and coming home to your loved ones safely, rather than as the blood and gore of a car accident, which is the more traditional way of getting that seat belt message out there," she tells CMO.  “The interesting thing is the government had greater success than before with this type of messaging, over the traditional negative methods.

“We know emotions change behaviour. The idea of positive messaging is not just using a positive message, but can you pull on a positive emotion as well to pull people towards the desired behaviour?" 

Another government example is a simple question asked: ‘I will be a voter tomorrow’, versus ‘I will vote tomorrow’.

"The people that were asked the question ‘I will be a voter tomorrow’ had a 30 per cent increase in voting the following day than the people who agreed with the statement, ‘I will vote tomorrow’. So again, the language was attached to emotion,” Langley says.

Positive evidence

The key is using positive words and messaging linked to positive emotion. This may seem counter-intuitive, as the brain has a negative bias linked to human survival. However, people are now so bombarded with negative messaging, unless it is immediate, we do not pay attention to the threat.

The relentlessness of negative messaging also makes many people feel helpless, and that they can’t act to help, so they simply don’t. After a stream of such constant bombardment, we also simply become numb to it.

Managing director of Suits and Sneakers, Anne Miles, is an advocate for neuro-diversity. She sees evidence communications are most effective when they are designed to reach more of the different thinking styles at the one time - and without polarising one or the other.

“There are 64 different metaprograms we all run in our minds when we process information and these drive us to make decisions and to act on them,” she explains. “This is on top of other factors such as our upbringing, culture, personality, and experiences. Only one of these metaprograms involves responding to negativity and problems, and only for a certain percentage of the world out there."

For marketers to deliver on behaviour change, whether that might be to do some good for the world, or just move people to a purchase, Miles suggests we can be more effective by being neuro-diverse in communications. This will also help budgets to go further. 

“Relying on scare tactics and negative messaging to drive change is only reaching a certain percentage of the population," she says. "I’d also say it is doing harm to wider humanity and creating a lot of self-doubting, even mentally unhealthy, people in our world of consumers unnecessarily.

“As a brand, that means you are losing a lot of your audience in a time when the customer is very clear about the values and level of consciousness they now expect from their employers and from the brands they buy."

Miles predicts we're about to see our biggest ever ‘vote by purchase’ era, where customers will take a stand on these big topics and buying tactics.

“To drive effective behaviour change without harmful negative messaging we do need to consider neuro-diversity as a viable solution, and brands better get on board before the customer votes with their wallets,” she says.

As Langley points out, we are hard-wired through human evolution to pay attention to negativity and threat. However, this doesn’t mean it prompts change, or even action.

“If you look at some of the stuff through the centuries, you know, with the Greek tragedies that everybody turned up to watch at the acropolis, or Shakespeare's tragedies, and even modern movies, a lot of it perpetuates negative emotions,” she says. “But what it can do sometimes, if we are consistently feeling these emotions, it almost numbs us. And then we just feel sad and don't know what to do with ourselves because we can't do anything, so we feel helpless, or we get numb to the trauma. It’s almost a hardening.

“To shift the mindset a little bit we can use positive words that indicate action. This inspires us and stops us feeling helpless and numb."

As Langley explains it, the human brain doesn't need any help leaping to a negative thought. "But we need something to pull us towards the positive, otherwise we can find ourselves getting caught up in the classic example with the news – the negativity and the fear becomes addictive and we can’t turn it off. This is part of how our brain is wired.”

Up next: Our experts offer tips for tapping positivity

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Latest Videos

Launch marketing council Episode 5: Retailer and supplier

In our fifth and final episode, we delve into the relationship between retailer and supplier and how it drives and influences launch marketing strategies and success. To do that, we’re joined by Campbell Davies, group general manager of Associated Retailers Limited, and Kristin Viccars, marketing director A/NZ, Apex Tool Group. Also featured are Five by Five Global managing director, Matt Lawton, and CMO’s Nadia Cameron.

More Videos

The best part: optimizing your site for SEO enables you to generate high traffic, and hence free B2B lead generation. This is done throug...

Sergiu Alexei

The top 6 content challenges facing B2B firms

Read more

Nowadays, when everything is being done online, it is good to know that someone is trying to make an improvement. As a company, you are o...

Marcus

10 lessons Telstra has learnt through its T22 transformation

Read more

Check out tiny twig for comfy and soft organic baby clothes.

Morgan mendoza

Binge and The Iconic launch Inactivewear clothing line

Read more

NetSuite started out as a cloud-based provider of Enterprise Resource Planning software or as NetSuite solution provider, which companies...

talalyousaf

NetSuite to acquire Bronto's digital marketing platform for US$200m

Read more

Thanks for sharing this post, its really good information I get through this blog.CDPO Online Exam Training

Infosectrain01

3 ways Booking.com is improving its B2B marketing game

Read more

Blog Posts

Getting privacy right in a first-party data world

With continued advances in marketing technology, data privacy continues to play catchup in terms of regulation, safety and use. The laws that do exist are open to interpretation and potential misuse and that has led to consumer mistrust and increasing calls for a stronger regulatory framework to protect personal information.

Furqan Wasif

Head of biddable media, Tug

​Beyond greenwashing: Why brands need to get their house in order first

Environmental, Social and (Corporate) Governance is a hot topic for brands right now. But before you start thinking about doing good, Craig Flanders says you best sort out the basics.

Craig Flanders

CEO, Spinach

​The value of collaboration: how to keep it together

Through the ages, from the fields to the factories to the office towers and now to our kitchen tables, collaboration has played a pivotal role in how we live and work. Together. We find partners, live as families, socialise in groups and work as teams. Ultimately, we rely on these collaborative structures to survive and thrive.

Rich Curtis

CEO, FutureBrand A/NZ

Sign in