Fear Mongering: The election explained by a creative director

If you ask the average person if they like negative ads or even think they work, they’d probably say “no they don’t work and can they please just stop.” But every campaign season there seems to be more and more negative ads. I’m predicting a record amount of negative advertising and messaging this time around. It should get worse and worse as the election day nears.

So why are we seemingly stuck in this cycle of negativity with our politics. Well, because it works and has worked for a very long time. Even though we think of Kennedy in historical terms as a nice guy he did it effectively against Nixon. And our founding father, Thomas Jefferson had his rival, John Adams, attacked in a pamphlet as one who “behaved neither like a man nor like a woman but instead possessed a hideous hermaphroditical character.”

Why does it work? Don’t we want our brands to be positive? Well, not all brands really are built out of positivity. Back in the 80s a car company named Volvo built its brand on fear.

Ad using fear as a motivator
Volvo Ad on saftey

I can see how you may look at this and say, “no it’s positive, it’s about protecting the occupants.” Or are they saying the competitions cars are unsafe and you should fear riding in them? The only way you can be safe from that fear is to ride in a Volvo.

What about your fear of creepy crawlies?

Again, this ad is more about fear than a positive feeling about the brand.

Now what about the candidates brands? If you feel real positive about either of these candidates, you’re not likely an “independent or undecided voter.” My mother-in-law, a lifelong democrat and the same age as Hillary, thinks she’s great. But Hillary is struggling with younger voters who supported Bernie Sanders and don’t see her as trustworthy. Trump’s negatives are also very, very high.

Building a strong positive brand takes a long time. Positive brands are about building trust. Like you trust that Ben and Jerry’s are going to use fresh ingredients. Or that Amazon is going to deliver the package you need when you need it. Now if you thought Ben and Jerry used tainted ingredients even once, how long would it take to earn their trust back. Or if Amazon let you down on getting an important package to you, would you go to the mall next time?

The power of the negative attack comes from our base instinct as humans to protect ourselves from danger. And they’re feed by our natural inclination to trash talk. Research has shown that most people mostly talk about other people. Say something outrageous about your competitor (true or not) and people are likely to repeat it because that’s human nature.

Say something nice about someone and people are a lot less likely to repeat it unless that individual is deeply invested in that individual. I.e. A PR flack will say something nice about you and repeat the nice things you said at a campaign rally all day long because they’re paid to. People instinctively believe compliments are mostly bought and paid for in politics. Therefore it takes a lot of time to build the trusted brand that Bernie Sanders has with his followers.

So, next time you get upset because of all of the negative campaign ads remember what your mother said, “If you don’t have something nice to say about someone don’t say anything at all.” Just maybe, you can start to change human nature. Otherwise just sit back and enjoy the s#$t show.

I do not support either candidate for president. I’m a third party voter.

Posted on: September 6, 2016, by :