When Is Negative Messaging Effective?

When formulating our brand positioning or messaging, it's usually best to evoke positive associations in the minds of our consumers. However, there are situations where positive associations may not effectively communicate our messaging. 

Anti-smoking, drinking, and drug-use campaigns often use negative messaging. The main reason for this communication style is to evoke fear in audiences. Fear is thought to be the driving emotion in eliminating behaviors; if one is exposed to the horrible consequences of a negative behavior, he or she will become more anxious about it and strive to avoid the anticipated danger to the body. With negative messaging, this is what we hope to achieve.

On the other hand, research has shown that positive messaging and incentives can be more effective in eradicating a behavior than negative messaging. Instead of using fear as the driving emotion for behavior, love or happiness elicits a better response to behavioral change. Similar to an anti-smoking campaign, other campaigns may have the need to use negative messaging and in some cases, this works extremely well. However, for the general public, this isn't always the case. 

Think about what behavior you want your consumer or client to engage in. Is it one you want them to adopt? Or one you want them to eradicate? Depending on the motivation behind the intended behavior, you can adapt your style of messaging. We've found that positive messaging is usually a more effective communication style than negative, even in situations for behavior elimination, because people respond better to positive emotions.