Effect on Brands by Positive and Negative Marketing

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 4620 , Published on 25 November 2011

This entry is the 1st prize winner of the MBASkool Article writing contest held in November 2011

Let us start with a personality brand. Think Barack Obama, US Presidential Elections 2008 and his “Hope” and “Be the Change” Campaigns. His entire campaign centered on positivity. Rarely did he talk about his opponents in a negative manner. He focused on himself, his vision and tried to reach out to a maximum possible audience. He never had a condescending attitude.

Compare his campaign to that of McCain’s or for that matter of the other Presidential Candidates of the Republican Party. They focused more on bringing out the dark side of Obama’s life though it was in no way a matter of national security or importance.

End Result: Obama won the election and McCain lost heavily.

Let’s think local now. During the 2009 elections, the BJP and allies should have won the elections due to the poor performance of the ruling UPA government. However this didn’t happen. Reason: BJP excessively tried to damage the image of Dr Manmohan Singh. Instead, had they educated the voters about the performance of the UPA government and not resorted to negative campaigning, perhaps we would have had a different party ruling at the centre now.

Speeches after speech by Advani attacking Dr Manmohan Singh’s integrity didn’t help BJP’s cause.

Next, take the case of Contraceptives. Advocating the use of contraceptives had historically been in the public interest to prevent AIDS and other STDs. However, the Government campaigns mostly focused on preventing conception. In a country like India, where children are considered as God’s gifts, this negative campaign did not work out. Enter the private players with their bold advertisements and the usage of contraceptives became more hep. This was due to these players centering their campaign around the experience of using contraceptives. Result is that consumption of contraceptives is growing at a steady rate, especially in urban centres.

The best case study of negative marketing is that of the Government campaign for preventing cigarette smoking. The warning messages and lately even the ghastly images haven’t reduced the consumption of cigarettes. Probably a campaign around how healthy the body feels without cigarettes can be tried. This would probably lead to reduction in consumption of cigarettes.

Consider some marketing campaigns like that of AXE of Unilever. It doesn’t tell the consumer that he smells bad or that he is a loser without a bunch of girls around him. It just focuses on itself as a brand, how it differentiates itself from other deo brands. Its basic premise is putting on the Axe deo makes you attractive to the opposite sex. There were other Deo Ads which focused on showing that the person would smell if he did not use their Deo. These campaigns utterly failed. The success of AXEs marketing campaigns have resulted in other copycat campaigns for other brands, all of whom seem to be doing decently well.

Take Vodafone and Airtel concentrate on their offerings, their technical expertise and are hence the top two players in the telecommunications sector. On the other hand, consider the advertisements of IDEA which always harps that other networks don’t have the adequate network capacity, and that their network is superior. This campaign hasn’t resulted in much windfall for them. However, when they promoted their campaigns around their price the subscriber number picked up.

Another very interesting advertisement was the Rin vs Tide campaign. Rin claimed to provide better whitening of clothes in comparison to Tide. But what Rin did not realize is that, in the process, this resulted in Tide being present in the Rin ad campaign for a substantial time. This confused the viewer as to which company’s advertisement it was. This campaign certainly did not increase the sales of Rin.

Take the recent case of Anna Hazare and his campaign against the Government of the centre. When Anna Hazare solely focused on the issue of corruption, his campaign struck a chord with millions of Indians and people abroad as well. His single point agenda was to put in a new anti-corruption mechanism. This idea was catching on when Team Anna went berserk against individuals in the Government and focused on their credentials. Excessive negative language against the Government and going as far as asking people in a constituency of Hisar , Haryana to vote against the Government gave it a negative fervor. The campaign lost ground with members of the team in disarray. Had the agenda been pursued as it was before without campaigning against individuals, the Anna movement would have strengthened more.

So what should brands do? Focus on the negative qualities of the competitive brand or talk about the differentiating factors of their own brand? This would seem a dicey question. Let us  take the Hindi News channels as a brand. These channels have been thriving on negative sensationalism. The reason here being these channels cater to the voyeuristic attitude of Indians in general. However in the same argument look at the Reality TV shows on GECs these days. Best example would be the competition between Kaun Banega Crorepati and Big Boss 5. Excessive foul language on Big Boss 5 resulted in lower TRPs when compared to KBC. KBC with its theme of the COMMON MAN and HOPE did phenomenally well this season.

So did excessive voyeurism hurt Big Boss 5? It would seem so if we do an analysis of other similar Reality shows on TV. None of them ever had a large loyal fan base like KBC’s.

Though there has been explosive growth in brands that have started with negative campaigns, in the long term it is seen that these Brands haven’t survived.

The best of Brands – like the Bajaj Pulsar have survived for long by communicating a positive image to the consumer. With 90% percent of brands failing miserably after few initial years of their launch, all the brand managers and strategists have to give this above question a deep thought. How do they launch their product, how do they differentiate their product from that of their rival without going on a negative campaign of their rival? How do they communicate their positives in an effective and efficient manner?

The Brand Managers must market their products in an aspirational or inspirational manner. Take the case of APPLE. Everything that they do is so aspirational to the potential consumer. It gives the consumer a sense that he/she has arrived. Apple solely focuses on its product unlike its rivals who are more interested in pointing out the features that Apple lacks in. Lately rivals like Samsung are trying to engage consumers, educate them on the new features that their phones have. This led to Samsung shipping larger number of smartphones in 2011 when compared to Apple. Apple is focusing more on patents war that it’s having with Samsung and other rivals. Instead,  if these fights happen in the background and Apple continues to communicate its earlier strategy, sales are going to thump its rivals again.

Diet Biscuits, brands that endorse a healthy lifestyle all seem to doing well. Reason : They are inspirational in content. They show as to why a certain eating lifestyle is healthy for the body and positive effects of it.

Campaigns which appreciate the viewer like that of L’Oreal campaign around “Because you are worth it” led to outstanding sales for the company. Their product became aspirational as well as inspirational for its target segment.

We can go on and on about several such examples. The main argument being negative campaigns usually fail and even in exceptional cases where they do succeed, it is only at the beginning. Propagating a negative message at the very core of a commercial is not a way to grab the consumer’s interest or loyalty. The brands that do so do not leave a lasting impression on the consumer’s mind. What does create an impression is a brand that has an edge to its advertising and that makes the consumer want to immediately go and buy it! After all, we go and buy their products only to make our lives better. So why not portray the same thing in the advertisements?!

This article has been authored by Vijeth Pandit from FMS Delhi


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