Published in Sep-Oct 2022
When one is asked not to perform a certain action or say a certain word, it tends to ignite a desire in most people to do exactly that. Taking a leaf from this book, marketers across the globe have started to create awareness, and even sales, for their brands by dissing them in order to attract attention. In other words, negative marketing, a concept that taps into the negative emotions in one’s brain – sadness, anger, or fear.
The concept, if treated in the right way, can become a game changer for brands. Why? Because people are tired of hearing brands praise themselves and talk about how great they are. So when advertising takes a turn and surprises the audience with negative criticism, it can be refreshingly appealing.
Take for example Patagonia’s ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ print campaign, which appeared in The New York Times on Black Friday in 2011. The ad encouraged people not to indulge in rampant consumerism, but rather rein it in for the benefit of the planet. Result? It catapulted the brand into double-digit growth for the next four years. Turns out people really did want to buy the jacket after all.
In Pakistan, Knorr Noodles had been selling the brand from the perspective of a child and/or mother for years. Then last year they changed the strategy to depict the noodles’ delicious properties from a cat’s perspective – a cat who hated Knorr. The brand went as far as to create an Instagram handle for the cat, “Billa”
(@billakainsta) where he shares his hatred of the brand, telling people not to buy Knorr Noodles. It garnered a lot of eyeballs and engagement post the TVC’s release.
This is one way in which negative marketing can work for a brand.
Another way is to turn that negativity inwards. Meaning, a little self-criticism can make a brand seem more relatable to its consumers. One of the best examples of this is Domino’s Pizza. Five or six years ago, they received a bunch of negative comments about the declining quality of their product. Rather than defending themselves, they accepted their mistake and released a video where they talked about what they were going to do to improve quality standards and regain their customer base. In this way, they reinvented themselves publicly. This helped create a positive connection with consumers as they felt they had been heard, and which eventually helped Domino’s drive both sales and more positive responses.
Another way to negatively market is through online arguments and controversial commentary. Currently, the best example of this comes from Bollywood. Everyone in India was waiting for the release of the song Kesariya (from the film Brahmastra). However, the majority ended up being disappointed when it was finally released. An intense debate was initiated on social media. While some said the song was catchy, others expressed their displeasure with the phrases used in the song (like “love storiyan” and “tijoriyan”) – which ignited a meme fest on social media. But... the song crossed record-breaking numbers online.
These are just a few examples of how tapping into negative emotions can help a brand. But you need to remember that this kind of marketing should not be used simply because you want to be trendy. Instead, it should be used strategically with the key goals in mind. Done right, negative market can enable brands to empathise more with consumers and create more relevance and better differentiation from the competition – especially those who may not be willing to take a stand or break the noise of ‘neutral’ (conventional) messaging that might not be resonating. Negative marketing may be very successful when done sparingly and carefully.
Raaj Kheraj is Manager, Digital and User Experience, Adcom Leo Burnett.