Stop. Don’t go further. Don’t read this. Turn back. This is your final warning. This is not good. You’re not agreeing with me? You can’t act like this. This is a crime. Final call. Last hope.
People love negatives. There’s a reason why Pay Half doesn’t work half as well as Half Off. A placard saying Peace Always doesn’t have the whack of Say No To War. The way Smoke Free doesn’t inflame the corrective abruptness of No Smoking. And Private Property doesn’t have the kick of No Trespassing.
But advertisers insist that using negation in any form is tantamount to brand suicide. In fact, many clients have a knee-jerk negative reaction to ads with negative headlines. Nobody Does It Better, in the hands of vanilla optimists would translate to Simply The Best, and rob the headline of its magic. They’ll urge you to be more positive, more upbeat — even though some of the most negative expressions are the stock-in-trade of the world of hard sell.
Just look at any supermarket shelf to see proof of products declaring themselves as not your ordinary…, or not for everybody…, thus boosting their desirability. So much so, that many concepts framed positively wouldn’t work as well as they do negatively: War Against Drugs. Don’t Drink & Drive. Life Sucks. Fear Factor. Trade Not Aid.
Still not convinced? How about a short walk down the street: Don’t Walk. No U-Turn. Danger. Deadend. Stop. No Entry. No Parking. Wrong Way. If it wasn’t for negatives, the newspaper industry would shut down: Three Die. Man Commits Suicide. Unemployment Soars. So would the cigarette industry: Smoking Kills. And promotions wouldn’t be the same without Limited Time Offer, Last Days, Final Offer and Closing Down.
Famous brands have been launched on negation: Lemon, Think Small, and Ugly, But It Gets You There, said a lot about VW’s self-effacing attitude. I Never Read The Economist (Management Trainee, aged 42), did the same for The Economist. And Probably… gave Heineken enormous possibilities. To a degree, the lackadaisical emphases of our vanilla optimists has worked: Hospitals have Visiting Hours. Banks have Banking Hours and commercial outlets have Business Hours — when an Opening/Closing Hours sign would work more effectively. And that’s just one example.
Why the sensibilities of ordinary people have to be indemnified against negation is anybody’s guess? Perhaps it’s indicative of the frailty with which organizations have come to consider their prospects: we’re not a ‘target’ audience for nothing. Or maybe they think that the looming shadow of Dr. No may infiltrate their brand’s veins and make its complexion unattractive for consumption. Perhaps the resilience, tenacity and resourcefulness of ordinary people is not something our brand corps wish to consider in their warlike stance. But if they did, they would merely stoop to conquer.
Negations work precisely because they go against the grain of expectations. A well-placed negation is almost always a strategy for wider participation. More than reverse persuasion, think of it as a reverse-invitation. You’re only allowed in if you’re cool enough. No minors allowed. Eighteen and above only. Exclusively for the privileged. In fact, brands that ‘get’ the negation culture identify more with a young and media-savvy audience who willingly rebel against the trappings of the previous generation while trying to create and make some sense out of their No World Order.
May be we confuse excessive negation in our lives with religiosity. As though there is some moral shortcoming in breaking The Law where The Bad will be punished. But negation isn’t bad. It is the shortest distance communicators travel to spark our minds, thrill our hearts, wake our passions and shake our systems out of sleep mode. When ideas behind brands stand brazenly corrected, they lean towards an ultimate state of sterile uniformity. Instead of breaking the system (the rules), they become a systemic function of it — indivisible, inebriated and, ultimately, ineffective.