Negative Branding

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By Rashna Mahzabin

Branding is the name of the 21st century game of corporations. The villain of the branding world is “negative marketing”. Negative marketing is marketing that taps into the darkest emotions that humans feel. Rage, jealousy, and disdain are all staples of negative marketing. The format of most of the negative branding technique is simple: find the things the consumers hate and ridicule it.
Motivating consumers to buy your product is tricky. What motivator should be used for the branding of the product is debatable. Most companies stay away from playing with negative motivators. Negative marketing is a powerful motivator for some customers and is a tool that should be used if deemed appropriate. Normally, the groups that are most motivated by the power of negative branding are those that are high powered and successful. These are the people that are constantly looking forward and upward and can take a little pun.

Negative branding, just like positive branding, has many techniques. Generally, people think negative branding is a technique that involves you to paint your competitor in a bad light. It is infamous for being unethical and competitive. But these are just one of the many techniques of negative branding.

A negative branding campaign which will shatter this idea of negative branding is a restaurant in East Village New York where a Chinese Restaurant’s signboard says, “Second best Chinese food in the city.”

Negativity, when used appropriately, can be just as effective, if not more effective, than positivity. To disrupt someone’s thinking and stand out, you have to say something noticeable, memorable, and shareable. If you think being positive is a hard and fast rule of branding, you might be missing a great opportunity to set yourself apart.

The best place for negative advertising is without question in an aspirational brand. Aspirational brands differ from normal brands because they are not brands that appeal to everyone. Emotional branding uses aspiration brands to only target a certain group, whether it be high-powered businessmen or tough athletes. These are the brands that push you to be good enough to even consider buying their brands, not the other way around. While negative branding is great for aspirational brands, sometimes it’s better to use honey than vinegar in your marketing. The most important aspect of negative branding is that it cannot be used in the wrong sense. If your customers are not the type to take well to being abused a little, they’re certainly not going to respond well to being taunted by your advertising.

This tactic is used by brands who need to target their audience right. Many brands use negative branding as a filter for their customer base. Aspirational brands, as mentioned before, do not appeal or serve the mass. These techniques are useful for these brands to trickle down their customer base for future to manoeuvre their branding and marketing strategies accordingly.
It is not that only aspirational brands use negative marketing and branding strategies. Many companies serving the mass also have used negative branding for their profit. Sometimes these brands use shared bad experiences and self-deprecation as their way forward.

A classic example of this is Coca Cola. Back in 1985, Coca Cola decided to change the taste of their drink to a sweeter version. They branded the drink as ‘New Coke’ and sent it out into the world. Well, it took just three months for them to realize that they had made the biggest mistake of their drink-making career. They received thousands of phone calls, over 40,000 letters of complaints and a ridiculous amount of bad press, so they decided to revert back to the original taste and branded it as Coca Cola Classic. It got so much attention that TV show General Hospital, was even interrupted so that they could announce the news, and sales for the much-missed fizzy drink soared through the roof.

Most Trending Negative Marketing and Branding Strategies:

Exclusionary Personas
Exclusionary persona generally means a negative persona. A buyer persona is an archetype of who your ideal customer is. It helps you identify who they are and what matters to them so you can market and sell to them more effectively. You create an exclusionary persona to do, essentially, the exact opposite; that is to say that exclusionary personas are archetypes of who you don’t want as a customer that will help you identify who you should not spend time marketing and selling to. Negative branding uses this to identify their market to stop creating content that draws in the wrong people or let them keep reading and engaging with your content to help you spread your reach, but keep them from getting rotated to sales reps using methods like assigning them a low lead score.

Exclusivity
Many branding strategies use the idea of exclusivity and the sense of scarcity of their product as their branding game. In this case, the element of curiosity cannot be outweighed. Amari Dhaka for 2018 Valentine’s Day created a 9 lakh taka package which was the talk of the town. Despite trolling and fending off low blows by the other restaurants it stirred the curiosity of many through that one post. Amaris post was reacted upon, commented on and shared by thousands and created a storm in everyone’s newsfeed who was friends with any of the thousands who reacted, commented or shared the post. And that’s how Amari without wasting a penny became the talk of the town by using the exclusivity strategy.

Negative Titles (Occasionally)
One only has to spend five minutes looking at clickbait headlines that pepper the web to spot two common patterns. One tactic is something called ‘Inducing Incredulity’ – those titles that read “YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT SHAKIB-AL-HASAN SAID IN A PRESS CONFERENCE” or “THIS WEIGHT LOSS METHOD LOVED BY DOCTORS”. These highly promising links come as an empty pot in the end and the readers kick themselves for trusting any content which sounds so exaggerated at the first place. These type of headlines create doubt in most readers and does not trigger any curiosity for them to read the article. This can be achieved with a simple negative angle of a title that is mostly used by many brands. “Safest cities in the world” or “Best crime-free cities” will not get the attention but “Cities Worst for Crime” will get more attention.

Shared Experience
Some marketers are afraid to stir up negative feelings in their customers, but it can actually create a shared experience and tap into a level of emotion that some may not expect to get while reading marketing content, particularly if you’re a B2B marketer. Creating brand loyalty relies on bonding with your audience, and one way to do this is by sharing negative experiences with them. If you can tap into an emotional touch point in an unexpected way, your reader will think of you as less of a corporate powerhouse and more of a friend. This is an especially effective mobile marketing strategy to launch your campaign with, as it puts you on an even footing with consumers, letting them know you share their pain. However, once you’ve created that bond based on shared negative experiences, it’s important to shift the tone to more positive, solution-oriented content.

One of the best examples of this is Domino’s campaign. A few years ago, Domino’s Pizza ran a marketing campaign based on the bad ratings they had been getting. Instead of spinning the story (or ignoring it), they embraced their reputation and said something along the lines of, “We lost in the taste test, so we’re working hard to change it. We’re trying to do better.”

Self-Deprecation
A touch of self-deprecation is a really attractive way to get attention. Sharing your mistakes will make you seem more human, plus, if you do make a slip-up, you can be the first to condemn yourself. As long as your product or service is unimpeachable, you can afford to poke a little fun at your own product.

Go Compare is a UK based company that compares insurance for a number of things including car, home, and pets. If you are familiar with Go Compare, then you can probably already picture the really irritating opera singer, who up until 2012, used to prance around our television screens singing the words Go Compare on repeat. The company finally decided to wise up and realize that this was turning customers off their services. So what did they do? Well they ‘killed’ him off of course! They tried to blow him up in adverts and they even defaced their own billboards in an attempt to let Britain know, they were ‘saving the nation’ from this terrible singer.

Troll Back
Branding strategies may go wrong sometimes and can fall victim of trolling. These strategies-gone-wrong scenarios have also been used as negative branding and came out as winners. Tesco Mobiles use their negative comments for their unique way of branding. They take negative comments from disgruntled people and turn them into humorous tweets. This helped them get more followers and thousands of retweets.
All this being said, it’s important to always consider whether your negativity is going to backfire. Are you going too far with this? Is your audience liking the new branding? It’s also important to remember that any negativity you draw on needs to be tempered with some positivity. Negative marketing is tricky but if played well, it could be the real friend.

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