Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Power Of Negative Thinking

The new Chipotle ad is undeniably awesome.

Yet I wonder how many clients would have rejected it, with the dreaded critique "but you're dramatising the negative."

Quite rightly, clients want us to dramatise the positives about their product.

But what I contend is that if you start from a negative - and the Chipotle ad spends about 85% of its duration in a very dark place - then when you do reach the positive (Chipotle uses only real food) you have a much more powerful ad, because you have taken the viewer on a journey. 

An ad that was 100% positive and focused only on the wonderful fresh food and happy times you can have at Chipotle would probably look something like this:

No journey = flat.

Fear of the negative may partially explain why most ad-breaks depict a smiley, fake world that is barely recognisable as our own. And has doubtful selling power.

The fact is that many of the greatest ads of all time were actually very negative.

Apple's '1984' depicted the nightmare of a world ruled by the conformity of IBM.

Guinness 'Surfer' spends 50% of its timelength on the negative of 'waiting'.

And one of my favourite recent ads, for Devondale Dairy Soft, portrays the comically negative consequences of using hard butter.  

So we're faced with a major bummer, my friends.

I do have one tip though.

The secret training course at which clients are taught to reject ads that 'dramatise the negative' - the same course which has a class on 'maximising logo size' - also has a module on 'the power of the problem/solution ad'.

Problem/solution seems to be acceptable to clients.

Therefore, if you can re-frame your ad that dramatises a negative scenario as a problem/solution ad, you may just be able to sell it. 


Anonymous said...

That Chipotle ad makes me want to cry :'(

Alex of the Land said...

What I find odd/downright bizarre about the Chipotle ad, is that it spends the ENTIRE ad saying, basically, don't eat meat.

Now, if Chipotle was a vegetarian restaurant, this would make sense. But it's not.

I also note that when the Scarecrow is making his food at the end, we don't see him chopping up pigs, cows, etc to put into his burritos. But Chipotle do.

Why not show the Scarecrow hugging the cows to death. Or kissing pigs until they die. I honestly don't get it.

You can't tell me the cows that Chipotle kill are any less scared when they're about to DIE than when the Scarecrow does it.

The ads would be brilliant if Chipotle was a vegetarian restaurant. But they're not. So they're just as bad as every other restaurant in my book.

(Full disclosure- yes, i am a vegetarian. I became one a year ago so I probably wouldn't be so cynical if I still gorged on animals everyday like I used to.)

Anyway, all a bit off topic, but worth a rant I reckon.

Eat Big Fish said...

Aren't you just talking about challenger advertising?
It's negative because it paints a picture of what the brand fights against and poses themselves as a positive solution to that problem.

Most marketers wouldn't buy this advertising because their brands are market leaders or in a comfortable position with nothing to fight for or against.

Apple started of as the challenger but now are the brand leader and wouldn't ever consider doing a 1984 in this day and age because they've won the fight. For now. Samsung on the other hand have (theoretically) a superior product and are challenging Apple's negatives in any way they can.

Daniel Muro said...

About negative advertising being only for Challengers, yes, most of the examples I can think of aren't for market leaders.

It seems counterintuitive to throw stones into glass houses (specially if you are the wealthy leader)... unless you can find something to fight against, something interesting in order to improve your own product or your customers' experience.

However, in Nike's "Endure" (with Cash's "Hurt"), no more than 5 seconds are dedicated to positivity. And all the ad, every bit of pain, of exhaustion, of pushing limits, of bitter defeats, of anger, can be perfectly understood/related to by its public.

This is, surely, one of the few exceptions in the "Challenger-Negativity" binomium. A great one though.

About the Chipotle ad, I'm afraid Alex of the Land is getting it wrong.

This superb animation short's message it is not "DO NO EAT MEAT", but "WE REALLY LIKE TO DO THINGS THE NATURAL/BETTER WAY".

So, is a "yes, eat meat (or vegetables, or a mix), but do it in nicer, more hones way". And, obviously, "buy from us, as we do it/grow them/breed them/cook them that way... and others don't".

In my opinion, the amazing power of the story, with lovely visuals & music, helps the brand make that point quite memorably.

I have to admit, though, that they get a bit tricky at the end with all the veggie stuff, and no meat on sight. Narrative license at its best.

Chizzy said...

Thanks for posting, Simon. It's a great example and a topic that I mull over frequently. In the same meeting I have heard the same client accuse a TV script of "highlighting the negative too much" AND not engaging the viewer enough on an emotional journey. It made me want to head butt my Sharpie (lid off!). It's proven that 'TENSION' in advertising is a powerful driver of emotional engagement and a great way to increase 'BRANDING'. The viewer is literally hanging out for the resolve, which, if done well, slips the brand into the subconscious with a plethora of relevant and meaningful positive associations around it. The trouble is, clients (and some agency folk) still just learn and practice from what consumers THINK and SAY about the ads in focus groups. And the rational brains around that table will always kick in and tell us not to remind the public of the any problem. But, as this piece of work will prove, the rational brain has very little SAY in how we truly FEEL about a brand and its value and purpose.

Scamp said...

Interesting question about whether only challenger brands should be negative. I tend to think it would be a good thing even for market leaders to have an enemy, since this can act as a galvanising force, and prevent complacency.

The market leader in fitness, for example, could pick inactivity as an enemy. The market leader in bottled water could pick dehydration as an enemy.

Chizzy, thanks for commenting. I think you're absolutely right about consumers saying something different in focus groups to what they do. It's a major (and little addressed) problem. Perhaps a future post...