I was a kid who wanted attention and got a lot of it . . . mostly negative. A rabble-rouser and talk-backer, I spent a good portion of my elementary school years in chalky unlit cloak closets being punished for one transgression or another.
Miss Klein, my third grade teacher – the one I called a “big fat barf” in front of the whole class – told my classmates in her creaky voice, “Ignore her and she’ll stop.” Mrs. Roberts exhorted my 5th grade cohorts with “Don’t pay attention to her, you’re just feeding the fire.”
While my teachers promoted negative PR about me, my peers held me in a certain amount of awe. Fury made me brave and I willingly took on bullies and mean teachers without a second thought. Glorious attention came with each exploit. The good variety provided sympathy, hugs, pats on the back and the occasional extra dessert in the cafeteria at lunchtime. The bad variety – the spankings and groundings – yielded more fodder for the tears that would evoke the good variety.
Through those years of my turbulent childhood and adolescence, I came to one undeniable and hard-earned conclusion: being sad or bad evoked the attention I craved; being content and doing what I was supposed to do rarely brought more than a glance.
In a way, I lived the adage Any PR is good PR . . . or any attention is, ultimately, good attention.
Fast forward to today. I don’t buy into that adage anymore and I don’t need attention like I did when I was a kid. That’s what makes my current life experience a bit odd. I feel like I’m being rewarded for being sad. People I haven’t heard from in years have reached out to me. Their reactions are very moving and appreciated — necessary, in fact — but they’ve also made me think a lot about my childhood and my desire for attention then. And being the person I am today, the woman who studies human motivation through the eyes of a decades-long PR pro — I’ve been thinking a lot about how marketers/PR pros play on our emotions to get us to act.
If you watch television or listen to the radio, you’ll soon notice that most ads are upbeat; even if they’re not funny, they’re selling good news:
This book will change your life!
You’ll love going to this amusement park!
Buy this car and D-cup women will throw themselves at you!
Offering her the diamond will fulfill your dreams.
Look at this starving child; you can change her life with just $.25 a day.
But wait. Not all ads are happy. What about:
Drunk driving kills.
Meth will steal your entire life.
This is your brain on drugs.
Look at the chunk of my face they had to cut off because I got cancer from smoking.
The first set of ads spur us to buy with promises of sunshine and daffodils. Perhaps the motivators have to be positive in order for us to part with our money. So how do we explain the success and prevalence of the second set of bummer ads? And what about political ads? Their efficacity confuses me most of all. Some are the obvious happy variety: Vote for me and the economy will soar, you’ll be safe and everyone in America will have a Jacuzzi. Many, however, are based on fear or guilt or massive negativity: So-and-so is in league with Satan, wants to drink your children’s blood, voted to let terrorists fly first class to the U.S. without passports and wants to make you poor and kill your grandparents. He’s bad bad bad bad and scary and horrible and everything you don’t want . . . and, oh, by the way, I’m the good guy.
I’m assuming all of these ads and approaches work. Otherwise the billions of dollars spent on each variety wouldn’t pass hands each year. But which ads work best for which messages? Which ones get our attention and make us take the second step of doing the desired outcome?
Hell if I know.
That’s what I want to explore today.
Do you have a favorite ad? Tell us why (add a link if you can find it)
Do negative ads – like the PSAs or political ads I mentioned – work for you? Why?
Are you noticing other trends in advertising that are attracting your attention now?