Can You Make “Negativity” Work For You?

We’re right in the middle of the political season, and everywhere you go you see various ads for the presidential candidates. A layman might naturally assume the candidate with the more positive message will win out, as that’s what works with PR everywhere else. (Just look at the stigma always associated when a candidate “goes negative.”)

Negativity - Positivity Two-way signOf course that’s not always the case, and in fact mudslinging occurs across the board now. You rarely see an election (on any level) that has zero amount of negativity associated with it. If it didn’t work, candidates wouldn’t keep doing it, right? So you’re left to assume some of it is effective.

But can negativity really work for your company? The world of politics is one thing and commerce another – can similar strategies work for both?

Why It Works

 So why do negative ads work anyway? Back in January, CNN ran an opinion piece covering this exact thing, and it made a lot of sense. Ruthann Lariscy, a professor of advertising and PR, says that there are a few reasons why negative ads are so effective.

The first reason she gives is negative events and objects are more memorable. Every day is filled with positive events like not crashing your car, eating lunch on time, sending an email with no problems. None of that we remember – but as soon as that important email bounces or we get into a fender bender, it’s #1 on our minds all day.

The other reason she gives for these ads working so well is just how complicated negative ads are compared to positive or neutral ones. To understand why the one candidate is so good, the ad has to explain in detail why the other is bad. This way the first candidate is “good” by default since they don’t do what the “bad” candidate does.

This complexity makes us process the ad more intently to figure it all out. If it’s a more straightforward positive message, we may gloss over it with little thought. A negative ad makes us slow down and consider what we’re seeing.

Does it Work for Business?

 Mudslinging ads aren’t exactly a new idea, as political opponents have been calling each other names for centuries. Plus, on occasion you’ll see an ad for, say, batteries … that goes out of its way to point out how terrible the other battery companies are.

So yes, it CAN work for business – but the real question is, do you really want it to? If you have the choice of being negative versus staying positive, wouldn’t you rather stay positive? Going in a negative direction tends to reek of last ditch efforts or existing in a super competitive environment. If you have the option of not going that route, it seems like it would make more sense to take the high road.

You could potentially use negativity as a gimmick, much like certain restaurants do – instead of great service they treat the restaurant as a cool place they made for their friends to hang out, and if you don’t like it, tough.  However, that bar vibe doesn’t always translate well over the Internet, and you’re more likely to offend someone than give them a chuckle. Unless you love to gamble, it may be better to avoid this gimmick.

 Have you seen a company successfully use negativity as a PR tactic?

This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. Download your free copy of 7 Cheap PR Tactics for Success in Any Economy here:

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