Negative Appeals: The Neglected Side of Promotion -- a Comprehensive Examination

Article excerpt

The people explaining the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island tried creatively to repackage and market their negative situation into something more positive. Their press releases, for example, described the fires as "rapid oxidation" and the explosion as "energetic disassembly" [19].

We can look back and smile today at how ineffective they were in selling that message to the public, but we cannot chuckle too loudly. Whether then or now, "negatives" in the world of marketing and its promotion component are usually associated with failure.

The traditional marketing wisdom still prevails: keep the emphasis from being put on the negative and one can avoid failure. Such a philosophy is so ingrained in the marketing world that most marketing persons find it difficult to operate from any other point of view. Whether a product is nuclear power or dish washing detergent, a healt care plan or a new kind of flea power, the governing principle is to stress and promote the positive.

New evidence is emerging, however, that suggests that promotional strategists should not overlook the possibilities of using negative motivational and emotional themes. Additional information indicates promotional personnel should also consider new approaches to selling "negative" products. These are products that buyers dislike purchasing, such as burial accessories, flawed goods, or personally sensitive items like hemorrhoid creams or suppositories.

This article reviews the available literature on the major negative motivational tools (and related themes) and cites examples of how the negative inducements outlined in Tables 1 and 2 below have been utilized. Also reviewed are three negative product categories that marketers need to better understand.

The examples, when examined together, are strong evidence that negative appeals can be highly effective in the hands of sophisticated professionals.

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THE DOMINANCE OF POSITIVES

Most American business schools have their students focus only on success stories; very few address failure and its management [23].

Marketers, in particular, "are trained primarily in the art of using positive inducements," according to Philip Kotler [14]. It is hardly surprising, therefore, to find that American business culture fosters an emphasis on the positive. Positive inducements are a known quantity and involve less risk than negative ones.

In fact, a positive marketing strategy is easy to develop for most products and services. Sellers almost universally view their products and services in a positive light. Some vendors are so positive that they fail to see that their products or services may have real limitations. They fail to perceive that buyers may dislike purchasing their products.

Yet, even marketing personnel who recognize that no product can totally satisfy still tend to emphasize the positive and diminish the negative (e.g., the product has fewer features but is lower in price).

Marketing strategists intuitively think that the public responds better to positive messages. People feel most secure when they receive a positive message about a product that might satisfy their needs. In reality, however, stress and conflict about in today's world, and the press continually reports negative stories. Motivational selling is often used as a weapon by both the seller and buyer to combat these stresses of everyday living reported by the media.

The intent of much promotion today is to present goods and services "as the path to happiness and the solution to virtually all problems and needs" and to make "consumption a top-of-mind behavior" [21].

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It is obvious even to the most casual observer that most promotion is directed only be positive motivations. Negatives can be difficult to implement, and, consequently, marketers too often close the doors to an avenue of useful or effective communication. …