There’s a good reason we like to say NO

June 01, 2012  

There’s a school of thought that some marketers subscribe to: Resist negativity at all costs. For these people, any phrase that leans on a negative word or idea triggers an immediate request for revision.

And so great work dies every day, simply because it said no.

Why? Perhaps it’s an attempt to remove every trace of anything unpleasant for the consumer, to create a world where the brand is universally appealing.

But in a world without conflict, obstacles, and setbacks, what opportunities do we have to get ahead, overcome, and resolve our issues? (Besides, that world sounds pretty boring.)

When they’re used skillfully, negative words and images can be incredibly motivating. They can challenge us, inspire us, and set us up for success. Need proof? Here are just a few examples from well-known brands: 

  • Lowe’s: Never stop improving
  • Adidas: Impossible is nothing
  • Dos Equis: Stay thirsty, my friends
  • Butterfinger: Nobody better lay a finger on my Butterfinger
  • Ray-Ban: Never hide

And those are just taglines. Powerful and brilliant ads are also born of negativity. In one, Michael Jordan lists his career failures; in another, Patagonia tells readers to not buy their product. Even Hallmark has built a moving tribute to mothers around all the things a mom never hears from her children.

We believe it’s time to say yes to no. Here’s why:

  1. No puts up a fight.

    Conflict lies at the heart of all stories. Without conflict, there’s no action and nothing for the characters to do. When you tell your brand’s story, you want it to be the hero, and you want your audience to care. A well-placed no gives everyone something to fight for and believe in. Don’t you want people to fight for your brand? We do.

  2. No keeps it real.

    So much of daily life is sanitized for our protection. No provides a nice break from that. It’s gritty. It’s in your face, and it pulls no punches. It’s unapologetically authentic. And used well, it stops the reader and lets your brand say: “We know life’s a challenge: let’s get through this together.

  3. No means action.

    Like an arrow being drawn back in a bow, no creates tension. When that tension is released, the arrow flies. Whether it’s a bull’s-eye is up to the archer. But without a drawback, there can be no advantage. Without an opposing force, there can be no compelling solution. Without a no, there can be no yes.

  4. No is unstoppable.

    Yes says “come along,” but no says “defy me.” And anybody who’s spent quality time around a four-year-old (or a copywriter) knows the response to “Don’t do that” is usually “Watch me.” No challenges the audience to stand up and fight. Or get in shape. Learn more. Care deeply. You know, positive things.

One final thought: Say you fight the good fight but give in to the “positivity principle.” What happens when you eliminate the negative and accentuate the other stuff?

  • “Never stop improving” becomes “Keep getting better.
  • “Impossible is nothing” becomes “Possible is everything.”
  • “Never hide” becomes “Show off.”

All the drama, magic, and awesomeness boils away in the sunshine. And there’s nothing positive about that.