I call it negative persuasion.
Negative persuasion is the practice of selling to your customers by preying on their insecurities and telling them they’re not good enough.
And in this materialistic, image-conscious world, we see it all the time.
We all understand the power of positive persuasion.
Much of the advertising we see is based on positive persuasion — it shows us something and makes us want it.
That juicy burger covered in oozy, melted cheese; those glam sunglasses that looked so good on the poster model; that kitchen gadget that chops vegetables so efficiently; those earphones that make you feel like the singer is your living room.
We want to buy these things.
But how do you persuade people to buy when you’re selling something they don’t necessarily want?
Negative persuasion preys on inadequacies and insecurities.
Negative persuasion works by telling customers that they, or the things they have, are in some way inadequate.
Here are just a few examples of the vulnerabilities advertisers prey on and what they can persuade you to buy.
Fears and anxieties.
Examples include: Home security, life insurance, smoke detectors and health cover.
What if the worst happened?
Threats to loved ones, finances, possessions, security, health and wellbeing make people want to safeguard those things.
Vanity and self image.
Examples include: Anti-ageing products, cosmetics, hair care, teeth whitener, weight loss products and foot care.
How do other people see you?
Today’s media vilifies people for their appearances and creates a societal pressure for people to look a certain way. This influence is a source of much paranoia and insecurity, which advertisers can exploit.
Hygiene and cleanliness.
Examples include: Air freshener, toilet cleaner and antibacterials.
How clean is your house? What is your loo saying about you? Did you know your worktop carries as many germs as your toilet seat?
The mere mention of germs and bacteria is enough to send some people running for the bleach.
Negative persuasion is becoming less common.
Historically, negative persuasion has proved successful in selling all kinds of things. More recently, however, we can see the market is changing and using negativity as a motivator is declining.
We can see this in television advertising. Where once hair dye advertisers would focus on covering ‘unsightly’ grey hair, they now focus on luscious, multi-tonal colour and mention grey hair much more sparingly — if at all.
Life cover advertising, which used to focus on the worst case scenario, now looks at the positive outcome. Because the husband took out life cover, when he is taken ill, his family can keep their home and still afford to do the things they enjoy.
Why is this happening?
I have a theory.
The market is changing.
The evolution of the Internet has enabled virtually anyone to start a business, so there is plenty of competition out there.
To stand out in this crowded marketplace, companies are now focusing on building their brand. They are personifying their brands, giving them a personality and a tone of voice. They want their brands to inspire trust and to be appealing.
In short, companies want their customers to like them.
Can you make your customers like you by making them feel bad about themselves?
It certainly poses a challenge.
Does negative persuasion still have a place in today’s market?
I recently had to contemplate this question when working for a client.
My client is a safety advisor, helping companies to understand and implement complex safety legislation.
For the companies he works with, having a safety advisor is advised but not enforced. Therefore, he still needs to persuade companies to use his services.
When I asked about the main reason a company would employ him, my client told me it was to avoid getting prosecuted and having to pay a hefty fine.
In a case such as this, which deal with with high risk in a B2B environment, I think pointing out the negatives is justifiable — especially if it results in a safe conclusion. This is the route I took, balanced out with plenty of positive, trust-building messages.
Use negative persuasion sparingly and with caution.
Make sure your main message is clear and overwhelmingly positive. To achieve this it’s advisable to aim for for all positive and no negative.
However, if there’s a compelling reason to use negative persuasion:
- Stick to hard, citable facts — anything else is just conjecture;
- Compensate by creating more positive arguments and scenarios; and
- Aim to make potential customers feel reassured by your brand, rather than feeling attacked or intimidated.
Do you need help with copywriting for your brand?
I’m Jenny Lucas, a freelance copywriter who can make your brand come to life with clear, benefit-focused copy and a tone of voice that speaks to your target market.
I’m experienced in writing compelling copy for sales, marketing and other brand communications.