Friday, September 23, 2011


While traveling last week, I came across a second negative Selling Proposition that may well be the most negative I have ever encountered. It’s worth taking a look at. The question, of course, is always the same for me. Is this a marketing context that works, and if so, should I be looking for ways to use it?

I had just arrived at my hotel in New York City and was waiting to check in, when I noticed one of those over-stuffed brochure stands that seem to occupy space in every hotel lobby on the planet. It was stacked full of colorful brochures, all vying for me to take a tour or see any one of hundreds of New York sites. After a short time, one grabbed my attention. At first it was the bright letters in its headline but my interest soon turned to the headline itself. What it said. See if it gets your attention.

“How To Avoid The Four Worst Mistakes NYC Visitors Make.” This brochure was an absolute stand out among thirty or so others simply because it was so negative. All of the other brochures featured one fantastic New York attraction after another, and all were characterized as fun and exciting. My initial reaction was to roll my eyes and walk on. What were they thinking about when they printed that? The headline truly turned me off. I did not want to know more. I moved on toward the elevator. Then, I began to think like a marketer and did a 180 back to the brochure stand. I grabbed the brochure and stuffed it into my bag for later scrutiny.

It was only twenty minutes later that I had a chance to read further. I soon discovered the headline, while incredibly negative, appropriately set a tone for the contents of the brochure. It got worse!

The brochure was for a company called “On Board” and it boasted seven “amazing sights most NYC visitors miss.” Here is the list of the seven sights that the folks at On Board Tours want you and I to see while in the great city of New York:

1)  “Ground Zero”, of course.

2)  The chinks in the wall of the Morgan Bank building, remnants of a 1920 terrorist attack. What?

3)  The site where the US Air flight went down in the Hudson River. It’s just water. It didn’t leave a mark.

4)  The “Ground Zero” cross, of course. But I think I’ll see that when I see Ground Zero won’t I?

5)  The John Lennon murder sight. It’s been remodeled.

6)  The pier where the Titanic survivors were brought back. Not sure what to look for after all these years.

7)  The “Whispering Gallery” in Grand Central Station. How’d that get in here?

Enough of that. What about negative sales messages?

My experience is that the operating state of mind for all consumers is, “what’s wrong here.” They are literally looking for something wrong and when they think they see it, they will move on fast. When we build a Selling Proposition for a client, we constantly review the message at each step of its development to ensure we have not given them anything to find fault with. In fact, we have a clever way of exposing such things to target consumers and they reject them every time. We even have to be careful when using what we call “negative attributes”, which are those short little bursts of two or three words that seek to overcome a perceived negative in a product or service. An example would be adding, “Won’t leave a residue” on a cleaning product. As a marketer, do you use it or not knowing there may be a significant number of people you will have alerted to a potential problem when you thought you were solving one?

So, absolutely no, never go to the negative.  Stay away simply given the natural human tendency to make you wrong. Good luck and keep it positive.


Keith Chambers

Keynote Marketing Speaker
Creative Marketing Consultant
(310) 473-0010

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