Is Fear of Negativity Holding Your Marketing Team Back?

&Marketing, and marketing, outsourced marketing strategy

Written By Kim Steinmetz

On July 17, 2023

Sometimes marketers obsess over maintaining a glass-half-full viewpoint in their content, believing it’s always better to show the customer positive benefits rather than “focusing on the negative.” While it’s true that you don’t want to stress out your audience, both B2C and B2B shoppers are savvier than ever. When your brand avoids acknowledging the real-world problems your audiences face, you risk being seen as out of touch and artificial.

When you face reality head-on (without dwelling or sounding defeatist), your brand earns more authenticity among those looking for a solution. They’re more likely to give you their time when they can see that you understand their challenges.

If brands want to cut through the noise to capture their audience’s attention, empathize with their struggles, and differentiate themselves, it’s time to get more comfortable with a little negativity.

The Power of Bonding with Your Audience Over a Problem

It may feel counterintuitive to risk stirring up negative feelings in your audience by drawing on negative experiences. But when done correctly, it can help with reader retention and engagement by creating a shared experience and tapping into emotion to make the reader feel seen and understood. For example, an electronic lock brand may reference the frustration of losing your keys or getting locked out, a common negative experience that most people understand and can bond with the brand over.

When incorporating the StoryBrand framework into their strategy, marketers must understand that “every story is about somebody who is trying to solve a problem, so when we identify our customers’ problems, they recognize us as a brand that understands them.” (Donald Miller, Building a StoryBrand)

If we want our audience to pay attention, we have to position ourselves as offering a product or service they can easily use to solve that problem. To do that, we have to clearly identify and articulate that problem so they can see that we understand what they’re dealing with. StoryBrand marketers turn that problem into a personified villain so we can tell the audience a story about themselves as a hero, overcoming the villain using our products and services. Stories are only compelling because they include a struggle, a challenge to overcome. If we limit ourselves to only discussing the positive, we can’t create as effective a story.

A great example is a Rug Doctor campaign that showed people “steaming mad at dirt,” angry at their soiled rug. While most people aren’t enraged by a dirty rug, they certainly don’t like it, and this makes for a more interesting story than simply offering the benefit of a clean rug — the audience’s aversion to dirt is more powerful than their appreciation of cleanliness. Starting with a clean rug doesn’t make for an interesting story, because there’s no problem for the hero to solve. A clean rug is a nice benefit but a poor attention-grabber.

4 Examples of Useful Negativity in Marketing

Personify problems as villains.

Personifying the audience’s central problem as a villain is vital in marketing storytelling. For example, the medication brand Mucinex has done a great job of personifying mucus as nasty little monsters living in your sinuses — and positioning their product as your best defense against the invader.

Try a “negative” headline or title.

Refer to the title of this blog as an example of a negative headline: Is Fear of Negativity Holding Your Marketing Team Back? This headline introduces doubt and the potential that the reader may be doing something wrong — but there is also the implied promise of a solution. The important thing to remember when using this tactic is to provide solid content that offers a solution or a way to improve.

Take a stand.

Take a stand for something your brand believes in. This might involve something controversial, possibly a social or political issue, but it doesn’t have to be that serious. You could have what constitutes a ‘hot take’ in your industry but is low-stakes for those outside your audience — like an audio/video company stating that the industry should have chosen the Beta video format over VHS. Some may disagree with you, but it could be worth it if it gets people talking and associating your brand with a specific position on the topic, especially if you have the data and experience to back it up.

Poke some fun at yourself.

A little self-deprecation and self-awareness can go a long way. For example, Domino’s Pizza acknowledged that many customers thought their crust tasted like cardboard and pledged to improve the recipe. This helped to humanize the brand while proving to customers that they not only listen to their feedback but also take it seriously enough to take action.

Tips for Using Negativity Effectively in Marketing

Referencing negative experiences or audience problems is essential, but requires practice and diligence to ensure it’s done effectively. Here are a few tips to help you maintain balance and avoid alienating the audience:

  • Be sure you truly understand the audience’s problems and the negative emotions those problems cause.
  • Be subtle — it’s best not to be heavy-handed or extreme when referencing negative experiences.
  • Once you’ve formed an emotional bond over a shared negative experience, shifting the mood quickly to a solution is important. Don’t dwell.
  • Show the reader that the solution is simple — there’s an easy way to escape from this situation, and we can show you how.

Overcome the Fear — We Can Help

From learning how to effectively use negativity in advertising and marketing to building a content marketing calendar and measuring its ROI — and more — we can help! Contact &Marketing today. If you want to DIY your brand’s messaging, download our narrative marketing outline as a guide.


About the Author
Content Specialist Kim Steinmetz helps brands and thought leaders discover and develop their unique voice and tone while establishing authority on a topic through compelling messaging and copywriting. An accomplished writer and marketer with over a decade of experience, Kim is well-versed in both B2C and B2B content.

Are you facing challenges of your own in generating leads and meeting your business’ growth goals?

We’d love to learn more about your challenges and how a coordinated marketing approach might help take your organization to the next level.