Look On The Negative Side
Updated: Jun 7, 2021
Such a dirty word for all of us in advertising. How often have we heard “The client will never buy it, it’s too negative” from the mouths of servicing execs, planners and after a point, our own creative selves. How did it start, I wonder? At what point did someone realize that endorphins are the way to go and decide that from here on, it’s positivity or bust? Conventional wisdom demands it, apparently. Happy people are more likely to buy things, to respond positively to brand messages and that’s what we’re here for. To make them feel good about themselves. If you grab someone and say, “Hey Pockmarks, your face looks like a join-the-dots puzzle. Here, use this anti-acne facewash” you can bet your booty they’re not going to be thrilled. Worse, they’re not going to buy that product. Even worse, they may start a hate campaign against it online and then where would we be? No. Flattery, ego massage, that’s the way to go. Tell them they’re pretty, intelligent, attractive, make them feel happy, amused, cheerful, play their heart-strings like a second-hand acoustic guitar and you’ll have them eating out of your hands. Or so we’ve been told.
Public service ads in particular, shy away from negativity these days. Gone are the days of gruesome pictures of murdered tigers, captioned with graphic headlines. Now, with a few (or forty thousand) swift strokes in Illustrator, we have a neat, clean plea to save an endangered species. Nobody wants to be reminded of the blood and the gore, thank you very much. We get quite enough of that in the evening news. The thing is, I wonder if we may have lost the plot somewhere. All this feel-good happy-happy stuff is becoming a bit like saccharine: overly sweet, terribly artificial and in sufficiently large amounts, likely to induce vomiting. This doesn’t mean I think the time is ripe to take consumers by the hand and give them the ego-bashing of a lifetime. No, but I’m just wondering if there’s some merit to exploring the darker truths of the human psyche as well. Vanity, jealousy, pettiness – they’re all a part of the human experience, something audiences will definitely relate to. In our eternal search for insights, have we looked into these enough? I don’t think so. It’s worth a shot. What would it be like to inject a dash of truth into the mish-mash of product claims and sky-high promises? To have an honest-to-the-point-of-being-wicked voice that stands out among the dozens of honeyed accents clamoring for the consumer’s attention? Take these, for instance.
What does one find in these? Creativity, check (both picked up metal at Cannes this year). Effectiveness, check (Book Burning Party won a gold at the worldwide Effies, Steal Banksy was a finalist). And courage, tick that off too. Because they’re both brave ideas, which have dared to look beyond the Rockwell-painting-stereotype of the human existence. Now realistically speaking, we can’t all be that brave and negativity can’t possibly work in every category. But where it can, why not convince clients to go in a different direction from the norm? After all, the public perceives us as a bunch of anti-establishment, rule-breaking, trouble-making, denim-wearing professional teenagers. What harm can it do, to live up to the image once in a while?
(This was my August blog post for Campaign India.)