What Is Negative & Positive Advertising?

by Fraser Sherman; Updated September 26, 2017

Your advertising campaign can tell consumers how wonderful you are or how bad the competition is. Positive ads take an optimistic tone: They encourage an individual to buy a product or service and emphasize things that will get better if they do. Negative ads warn of the consequences for individuals if they don't buy what you're selling. Both have their uses and their drawbacks.

Positive Ads

One ad executive told the "New York Times" that upbeat advertising appeals to the American faith things will improve. Ads that show positive results if consumers try a new product, switch to your company or join the military, play on that optimism. If you want to build the reputation of your company or its product, positive ads offer consumers reasons to trust you and to try what you have to offer.

Negative Ads

Negative ads work by warning of terrible consequences if consumers don't change their behavior -- a lot of anti-smoking ads take this approach -- or showing how inferior your competition is. Negative ads often include positive elements: The Mac ads of the early 21st century pointed out flaws in Windows systems to make a positive point about the strengths of the Mac brand. By highlighting the areas where you beat your competition, negative ads can boost your sales.

Feelings

The way people feel about ads plays a big part in whether the ad produces the desired results. Although consumers prefer positive ads, the "New York Times" says, they may react negatively during tough economic times if the ad is too upbeat or makes wildly exaggerated promises. Negative ads can leave a sour taste in consumers' mouths if they appear too mean-spirited; that negative feeling may rub off on your company as well as the rival you targeted.

Considerations

If you adopt a negative campaign, make sure that it's accurate. Highlighting areas where your product really is superior is perfectly legal, but distortions about how bad your rivals are could result in a lawsuit. Consumers may also conclude that if all you can do is trash the competition, it's a sign you have nothing positive to offer them. The safest move, some members of the industry stay, is to keep your ads realistic, whether you're going for a positive or negative effect.

About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.