Negative Words Elicit Desired Response

Creating copy that elicits the desired response from consumers has been a challenge for advertisers for as long as there has been advertising. What are the magic words that move message recipients to take action? If only it were that easy; there are no magic words, unfortunately. However, the types of words used could influence a response. According to a UK study by the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, people processed negatively worded information that they were shown for a fraction of a second more accurately than positively worded information. Researchers concluded that people are more attuned to negative emotional messages.

What are the implications of these findings for advertising? Two directions one can take these findings. First, copywriters and ad creatives should consider whether a message that is typically worded in a neutral or positive manner can be worded using negatively charged words instead. An example given by the UCL researchers is the message "Slow down" might be more effectively worded "Kill the speed." The negative emotion associated with "kill" could have a greater impact than a plea to "slow."

Second, the practice of comparative advertising seems to be a prime candidate for application of this study's findings. For example, an upstart company that paints the market leader as "a big monster" might more effectively contrast differences between the two brands as opposed to a straightforward comparison of the two brands. Political advertising seems to have already be ahead of UCL on this one, with attack ads often demonizing an opponent rather than focusing on superiority of a candidate.

Will we see a dramatic swing in ad copy and have negatively worded ads be commonplace? If advertisers buy into the UCL study's findings, negative could become the new positive. In an environment in which any edge to break through message clutter is sought, a shift in the tone ad messages may be worth pursuing.

University College London - UCL Study: Subliminal Messaging 'More Effective When Negative'

Labels: ,