Negative advertising in politics has become an expected, albeit contemptible, practice of the campaign season. The only thing that seems to change from year to year is the amount and intensity of the attacks.
But politics isnâ€™t the only sector that embraces it. Consumer and b-to-b marketers have employed negative tactics, headlines and copy to persuade and sell, too, including magazines and publications.
Like the sly serpent, negative advertising needs to be handled deftly. Using a broad definition of the term, here are some perspectives and applications.
In his seminal textbook on direct marketing, Bob Stone observed that yes/no offers generated a higher positive response than those without a negative option. The reason? Choosing one option over another was an involvement device.
Book and music clubs and continuity programs have used negative options for over half a century. They work precisely because the buyer canâ€™t stop the shipments unless they expressly opt out.
When a Loss Is Better Than a Gain
The pain associated with a loss is often more of an incentive to act than the pleasure of a gain. It doesnâ€™t make sense, but itâ€™s usually true. For example, if you tell a prospect for a healthy living magazine that theyâ€™ll find ways to improve their vigor in each issue, youâ€™ll produce a modest level of interest. But if your promotion emphasizes what the prospect will lose or miss by not taking action, theyâ€™ll respond with greater alacrity.
Negative ads that reinforce a prospectâ€™s deeply held beliefs can provoke a powerful emotional response and establish rapport. A promotion for The Nation built around the perils of right wing/big business control and one for The Weekly Standard trumpeting the excesses of a left wing/big government agenda both work for the same reason: They validate the worst fears and prejudices of their target audience.
Content must be considered, too. Itâ€™s not enough to rely only on the emotional impact of negative ads or to create a promotion thatâ€™s 100 percent negative. For a negative piece to be effective, you should tie it to some kind of positive solution or salvation.
In Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, the authors warn that fear alone will not win over potential customers unless you also â€śprovide specific, achievable steps that they can take to avoidâ€ť or minimize the risk.
Dr. Frank Luntz, author of Words That Work, agrees that pure scare tactics can backfire, especially when addressed to women. â€śIt is not the fear of something bad that motivates them; itâ€™s the hope for something better.â€ť
Interestingly, negative ads come across as more believable than wholly positive ones. An ad that cites a drawback about the product or service being sold contains more credibility because itâ€™s not trying to â€śput one overâ€ť on the prospect. Admitting a modest flaw breeds trust.
As Victor Schwab wrote in his How To Write A Good Advertisement:Â â€śOne of the principal objectives of a headline is to strike as directly as possible right at a situation confronting the reader. Sometimes you can do this with greater accuracy if you use a negative headline which pinpoints his ailment rather than the alleviation of it.â€ť
Humor can also be a potent way to make the negativity go down smoother without diluting the impact.
Master copywriter Gary Bencivenga wrote a magalog for an investment publication with this headline: â€śLIES, LIES, LIES! Why we investors are fed up with everyone lying to us!â€ť The cover contained caricatures of the scoundrels deceiving us: Slick politicians, fast-talking brokers, rapacious lawyers, and monstrous IRS agents.
By using exaggerated but recognizable portraits of our worst nightmares, the copy resonated more closely with the prospect and actually intensified the connection. As final proof of the effect of combining the comical with the cynical, this became one of the most successful promotions ever.
Online events, such as Webinars, are a cost-effective ways to build your business. Unfortunately, too many are promoted poorly because theyâ€™re not promoted enough. This approach leaves money on the table and hinders the growth of your customer file.
However, you can capture those lost dollars by developing a strategic online campaignâ€”a series of coordinated messages fired off during a specific timeframe. Each message or â€ścontactâ€ť builds on the previous efforts, giving the series momentum and intensity.
A campaign gives you added advantages: Multiple opportunities to reach prospects, an ongoing conversation rather than a single hit-or-miss contact, the chance to bond with your audience and build a mutually beneficial long-term relationship.
Campaigns can be roughly divided into three stages: Before the event, concurrent with the event, and following the event. Hereâ€™s a recent case study to illustrate each phase. Weiss Publishing has become a master at selling with campaigns. Their Weiss Global Forum, a video conference scheduled for August 13, was free, but was nonetheless promoted relentlessly, creating exceptional value in the minds of readers. In addition to emails, it was also promoted in the companyâ€™s free daily e-zine.
The campaign began in earnest nine days earlier with a dedicated email sent on August 4. Prospects received a new email almost every day thereafter. Each message employed a different hook: Tying the video to timely news items, emphasizing the historic significance of the topic, trumpeting the credentials of the speakers and so on. The emails also counted down the hours until registration closed.
The second stage began the day after the video aired. Weiss sent an email with an invitation to view it for those who missed it or wanted to see it again. To keep interest high, they issued daily emails and framed their messages with a variety of classic direct-response techniques: Teasing prospects with highlights from the video as a way to sample it, asking registrants for their feedback to forge a stronger connection with their audience, and then sharing that feedback in yet another email and gaining social endorsements at the same time.
Of course, each contact was an effort to get new people to register, but these messages went a step further: They also contained genuinely valuable informationâ€”a key element for building long-term customer loyalty and distinguishing them from mere â€śsalesâ€ť efforts.
The third and final part of the campaign began on August 17 with an announcement that the video would go offline on a specific date. Besides spurring action with a deadline, the messages also relied on time-tested psychological tactics to get a response. Whereas the first stage of the campaign pushed the greed button (secrets for prosperity to be revealed in the video), these emails stoked the prospectsâ€™ fear of missing out on something momentous (the risk to their well-being by not registering, guilt-tripping them for failing to respond to previous invitations).
In this final round of messages, another kind of countdown clock was used.
By all accounts, the campaign was a success. More than 18 separate contacts were used, excluding e-zine ads. The loyalty of existing Weiss customers deepened and the goodwill of future subscribers was established. In short, rapport was created that will likely lead to more sales whenever Weiss promotes a paid event.
But even if you donâ€™t have the resources to mount an extensive campaign, you can still reap significant benefits. For example, KCI Communications enacted a more modest campaign for their paid Webinar; yet they were able to sell 133 slots and picked up a few additional sales after the event.
This brings us to the question of whether you should archive your events.
Many marketers keep them available indefinitely. Since theyâ€™re great lead-generating products, their long-tail viability can be exploited. Others maintain a one-time only policy. If you donâ€™t archive your productions, then make them more exclusive by emphasizing the scarcity principle in your messages: Prospects more sharply crave the things they canâ€™t have. Use that to your advantage.