“We don’t lock you in a contract”​ – Why negative language is not a good idea in advertising

negative language in advertising

I don’t know about you, but every time I see this billboard I get a bad vibe. Let me explain why:

Let’s start from the fact that our minds work in mysterious ways. Sometimes we are aware of it, but most of the times, we’re not.

What happens is, that when we read something that has negative connotations or a “no”, we unconsciously get on guard. Why?

Well, the truth is that negative language has a very powerful impact in our mind. It makes us get in defense mode because it instills fear in our subconscious mind. And, guess what, most of our purchase decisions come from that enigmatic area.

So, what is really happening with this advert?

“We don’t lock you in a contract”

This sentence creates the image of being locked, trapped within a contract with a telecom company. And I’m sure you will agree that this is not a nice feeling at all. Is it?

But, if not being locked in a contract is a positive fact for the customer; then, why does it create this bad feeling?

Well, let’s make a small experiment:

Please read this: I don’t want you to think about a pink elephant.

What are you thinking about? Exaclty. A pink elephant. And, why?

Because although you have clearly read the word “don’t”, your brain hasn’t registered the negative message. It simply can’t. Interesting, isn’t it? So there we go.

That’s why, it is always more effective to use positive language than negative language when trying to persuade someone to do something.

How about changing the message into something like this?:

“You are free to leave us whenever you wish”.

This creates a whole difference in how we perceive the message. It’s friendly and gives us freedom of choice and hope; and that’s basically what everyone wants in their lives, right?

But, wait a second; telling your customers that they can leave you is terrible for the business!

Not necessarily. If you have to choose between making the business or the customers win, always choose the customers. Why?

  1. Focusing on your customers is the golden rule for long term business success (see what the most successful companies are doing today).
  2. If you provide a good value, an excellent customer service, and you connect with them at a deep level (the emotional part of the brain), why would they want to leave?
  3. When a customer feels that a company is empowering them and giving them options, that connection intensifies.

The truth is, that there is not right or wrong answer to this. It depends on so many factors:

  • The objective of the advert
  • The objective/s of the company (short term and long term)
  • Their values & philosophy
  • Their target audience
  • The social/economic/political context
  • And so on

So, again, I don’t know who made this campaign and what’s the intention behind it. I’m just sharing my views as a potential customer and a neuromarketing fan. In my opinion (and there is plenty of research on this as well), I don’t think that scaring customers is a good persuasive technique, but it can work in certain situations.

What do you think? Feel free to share your views in the comments below:

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