In copywriting, there are often multiple ways to deliver the same message. By highlighting either the positive or negative, marketers can position their products as they want to. Highway billboards offer great examples of positive and negative language can strongly influence how successful an advertisement is.
When to Use Positive Language
Businesses should try to use positive language in advertising whenever possible. They should highlight why their product or service is the best and avoid the negative angles. This is for two reasons. First, consumers may misunderstand the negative message and attribute that message to the brand. Second, people want to know why they should choose your brand.
For example, if a college offers online classes, there are many ways to say this. All of these are technically true:
- Enjoy flexibility to take classes when you want to
- Avoid drama with your fellow students by not seeing them
- Save money with online textbooks
Of these three, the first is the most powerful. Taking classes online gives you the flexibility to complete work when you want to, despite working a full-time job or parenting. There’s nothing negative about this. This is why so many schools use advertising campaigns with this thought.
Avoiding drama with fellow students is probably true, too. However, it highlights significant weaknesses within online programs. There’s not going to be a classmate you can get coffee with. That’s kind of sad.
In terms of saving money with online textbooks, saving money is almost always good. However, there are a few aspects of this to consider. First, are schools with online textbooks respected as brick and mortar universities? Second, what kind of money do students need to spend for textbooks? In general, you want to avoid advertising that pre-empts these types of questions.
When to Use Negative Language
Charities and PSAs routinely use negative language to influence emotions of their target audience. These advertisers know that they need to make their point in a way that drives people to act. In some instances, negative language works the best.
For example, “Feed the World” is an okay advertisement, but its language is too positive to generate any action. The consumer thinks it would be nice to feed the world, but they don’t feel motivated to do anything about it. A billboard that reads “4,000 of your neighbors didn’t eat last night” with instructions on how to donate food items works much better. People can quickly see it’s a problem close to home that they can fix.