Advertising: Power of Negativity

Have you ever wondered why you can remember the exact place you were when you heard the news of the tragedy of 9/11, but you have trouble remembering the details of the vacation you took last month?

Studies have shown that negative information triggers more activity in the area of the brain linked to emotion and remembering. We remember negative information with more detail because it evokes fear in us which motivates us to pay closer attention to it and seek more info about it.

It is true that advertising agencies are known for utilizing the power of negative emotion to instill shock into their brand’s campaigns, and they have been successful and memorable in doing so. The research behind this phenomenon, and the success it has shown in persuasion, has led the 2012 presidential campaigns to use these same tactics.

Psychologists have found that the images and emotions evoked by campaign ads play a large role in the publics’ affiliation choice. In fact, $3 billion is spent on the overwhelming influx of commercials and radio spots and it seems that 90% of these ads are flooding the opposing party in negative and vulgar light. But this is not just a cheap punch; this is the power of negativity.

Negative messages tend to break partisan reliance. Disturbing or fearful messages subconsciously make you, first: pay attention and second: want more information about it. Thus, you remember the message and look farther into the party’s campaign to feed your curiosity. In contrast, positive messages reaffirm the party affiliation you have already made, which is why these messages are used by the candidate who has a strong lead.

The time restrictions the candidates have to gain supporters and sway people to join their side explains the push for negative campaigning. By using this tactic, they can create an impactful message without legal ramifications, and they can make a strong, memorable impression, fast.

Tell us what you think about the negative messages in Romney and Obama’s campaigns. Are their negative campaign tactics playing in on your mind? Share your thoughts here or on Facebook at Weise Communications and follow us on Twitter at @Weise Ideas.

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