Notes Off the Napkin: Negative, Not!

Notes-Off-the-Napkin-logo1By Andrew Frame

I’ll go out on a limb here (that’s a metaphor, folks), and say most of us would agree there is a lot of negativity in society. We have crime in general, nations picking fights, elected legislators ignoring their constituency, families backbiting on television, and that yappy little dog across the street that has the most amazing ability to go off on a barking tirade just as I’m about to step into the booth.

So, why put negativity in your ad copy? Why use perfectly good airtime being a downer when you could use it to be positive and encouraging about what you’re trying to sell? Maybe it’s a sign of my firmly-rooted middle age, but I for one am really turned off by negative advertising. I’ll consider a competitor’s product to deny the negative advertiser their reward of my business.

For example, every Spring, when the price of gasoline starts to go up, I get reams of copy (that’s hyperbole, folks) that whine about “the cost of fuel”. It might be an automobile dealer touting the latest high-mileage vehicle, or a downtown association wanting people to “buy local” instead of caravanning into the Neighboring City with Big Box Stores.

News flash! We know the cost of fuel is going up. And people don’t like it when it happens. It means more of their “disposable income” (that’s a political joke, folks) has to go into getting back and forth to work instead of buying things like... food. And pediatrician/veterinarian visits. You don’t have to remind them of something that’s already impolitely poking them in the pocketbook every day.

So, in addition to the short list of:

-Avoid starting with a “self-answering” question.

-Avoid hype. Tell the truth. (Unless you’re being comically hyperbolic to make a point.)

-Avoid using cliché, and the words “just” or “only”.

-Avoid phone numbers, unless it’s a spot to drive phone calls.

-Avoid having your characters sell. Use the third-person announcer for that.

-Sell by lifestyle whenever possible.

-Write multiple ads instead of cramming every last detail into one script.

…let’s add : Avoid negative copy.

Consider the downtown association. Instead of using the price of fuel as a crutch, an excuse to get people to shop local, sell the value or experience as a lifestyle element. You can burn up a third of your copy whining about petrol, or use it to talk about the outdoor tea room, or the naughty window display at the lingerie boutique, or something positive that relates the advertiser to your audience.

Reverse engineer the reason for advertising. Do people not shop downtown because there are only four stores – three of which are open from nine-to-five when most of the populace is at work? Do they avoid it for the high mugger-to-tourist ratio? Or is something as simple as the Big Box Stores out-advertise the little boutiques and nobody thinks to go downtown anymore for tea and ladies underwear?

Identify the real issue, and you can write specific, positive, lifestyle-oriented advertising to help create and maintain awareness to get feet in the store or calls on the phone. Work on doing this without negative phrasing. You may even find a brighter, more positive side to yourself, as well. And, bucking the trend is always good to shake free the occasional complacency that comes with the job.

Happy writing.

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