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Tempted to Use Negative Marketing?

By Catherine Stock-Haanstra

Negative marketing (or comparative marketing as us marketers call it to make it sound less, well, negative!) describes marketing activity that is designed to make your competitor’s look bad and you look good. The clearest example of this is during an election campaign, but listen to the radio any day of the week and you’ll hear companies putting down their competitors in an attempt to elevate their own brand.


There is a good example that my husband and I always have a laugh about on the way to Melbourne Airport. A brand’s billboard on Eastlink in Richmond uses negative competitor associations to advertise their own brand. 2 versions of the campaign message have caught our eye and had us laughing in the car, commenting about it when we’re chatting about marketing and have discussed how well it has done it’s job in capturing out attention and got us talking. Then the other day I asked my husband whom the ad was for. Neither of us had any idea. What we did know was the name of the competitor that the not-so-subtle billboard was targeting its message at: carsales.com.au.  


In putting down its competitor, the brand had in fact amplified not itself to us, but instead its much larger rival.


Using negative connotation is a risky business that leaves a lot in the hands of the recipient. If they take your message at face value (“they’re terrible, we’re great, use us”) you’re on to a winner. However you run the risk of your message being missed and the emotion behind it – in this case your brand saying negative things about another – being the taste left in the audiences’ mouth.


Think carefully before you decide to base your next campaign not on what you do well, but what your competitors do poorly for it might not have the impact you had desired.

Catherine Stock-Haanstra is the Director of PIER Marketing. 
Connect with Catherine Stock-Haanstra on LinkedIn au.linkedin.com/pub/catherine-stock-haanstra/43/34b/346