Negative Marketing: Does It Really Work?

When talking about marketing, what you would usually encounter is a lot of people telling you that you need to show why your product or service is the best compared to others. This is true, however, every business out there is trying to do the same. The goal of every marketing campaign is to be bigger and better than everything that has been seen by the public so far. However, there is one thing that we sometimes tend to forget, negative marketing is still marketing.

It wasn’t long ago when things got really heated over Nike’s latest marketing campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. It seemed like the nation was split – those who supported Nike’s campaign and those who disagreed with it so much that they burned their Nike sneakers. The entire thing got such a nation-wide exposure, with the hashtag #JustDoIt becoming trending on Twitter. The entire controversy was covered by worldwide media such as The Guardian, CNN, Forbes and Sky. To the average person, this might seem like a case where Nike sabotaged themselves while trying to present themselves in a good light. But is the case really such?

Negative marketing has been used by skilled professionals for a long time. By analogy, it should work. However, it is much trickier to execute a negative marketing campaign instead of a positive one. Some of the reasons for that are the following:

  • Great risk of painting a negative image without a positive outcome of your business
  • Highly sensitive since you need to make sure your campaign is ethical
  • Risk of doing your competitors a favor and increasing their visibility

To put it in simple words, negative marketing can work wonders if you manage not to shoot yourself in the foot while doing it. We will take a look at some of the tactics that marketers use that have proven beneficial.

Negative Titles

People’s lives are not always sunshine and rainbows, and you can use the negative aspect of your marketing campaigns as well. Let’s look at a simple example: you are writing a blog post on how to efficiently pack your clothes in a small suitcase for a weekend getaway. The obvious way to formulate your title would be “How to Pack Your Luggage Efficiently” or “Pack Your Clothes in the Right Way”. This type of title will get clicks from people who believe that they can use some tips on packing. However, this title will not be appealing to people who believe that they are doing things right.

On the other hand, if you turn things around by using a negative title, the story might change. By using a title such as “Mistakes We All Make When Packing” or “You Have Been Packing Your Luggage Wrong” you are expanding the horizon. People who need tips would click it, but also, people who know they are packing things right will go on and read what you have to say. Either they will get a proof that they are doing things properly or discover that they are not. As a marketer, the reason why someone is reading the content is not that relevant. However, the fact is that in some cases by using negative titles you are targeting several groups of people at once.

Negative Marketing Involving Your Competitors

Involving in negative marketing practices by going head-to-head with your competitors is one of the practices used by big brands. The basis of this principle is the same as with marketing generally – you are trying to prove that your service or product is the best one out there. However, the way you are doing that is by using a competitor as a referent value. Negative marketing involving a competitor can be done in two ways:

  1. Attack

This negative marketing technique focuses on exposing the negative sides of your competitors’ product or service. This type of marketing has no positive content and its goal is to present you in a better light by trying to degrade the public opinion of your competitor. This negative campaigning goes beyond businesses – it is most commonly found in political campaigns. The most recent example would be the “locker room talk” of Donald Trump that went public during the past presidential campaigns.

  1. Contrast

Negative marketing by contrast is considered less damaging to competitors when compared to attack from evident reasons. While the negative tone in which is spoken about the competitions is still present, it is more subtle and it is done rather as a comparison. You are looking to show people what you have compared to your competitors.

The Ongoing Brand War

We are all aware of so-to-speak wars between brands that have been going on even for years. The main thing when it comes to involving in a negative marketing campaign is to make sure that your business is well-established and has loyal customers who would back you marketing story up. The most classic example of this is the Coca-Cola and Pepsi war.

The marketing campaigns of both companies against each other have been going on for years. You might remember the vending machine ad by Pepsi when the kid purchases two cans of Coke so he can stand on them in order to get Pepsi. Now, this is a classic example of an attack campaign. However, showing the competitors brand brings exposure to them as well, which is probably why we saw a bit of a different scenario in the latest Pepsi campaign against Coca-Cola.

Lately, the concept of voldemorting has been introduced as a way of referring to something without mentioning the name. If you think you know where the name came from then you are absolutely right – it comes from Voldemort from the Harry Potter series and it works in the following way: Voldemort was referred to as “He Who Must Not Be Named” or “You Know Who”. In marketing, by avoiding mentioning the name of your competitors but referring to them by using different words can make a difference. Since as we mentioned, bad marketing is still marketing, by avoiding your competitor’s name in your campaign but still finding a way to make it clear who you are talking about decreases the chances of doing them a favor and increasing their visibility. This is especially true for written campaigns since you are not giving your competitors any mentions.

There are other companies as well who are in a marketing war, such as Samsung and Apple, OnePlus and Apple, or simply every company against Apple. This is a book example of how an advertising war should look – different companies tell you why they are better than Apple and they have some of the existing Apple customers converting and becoming their customers. On the other hand, Apple has a legacy of customers who stick with the brand regardless if others say that they offer better value for money. In negative marketing campaigns like these, it seems like there is no loser. 

Final Thoughts

To answer the question if negative marketing works, we will go back to the Nike example. It seemed damaging to the brand, but was it really? It almost makes you think that Nike wanted this to happen from the start. A controversial campaign will always raise a lot of fuss. But even if this does not increase sales for Nike, it definitely is a great boost for their online popularity, visibility and even SEO. The campaign spread so much that there are countless memes on the Internet made by users, which is in reality free marketing.

You can argue if negative marketing is the right thing to do or not, but there is no doubt that if done right it can be very beneficial. If you decide it is something you should do, make sure that you are careful what are you doing and who are you going against. But keep things ethical – remember you are not immune to a negative marketing campaign from your competitors towards you.

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