10 Ways of turning a negative into a positive : Negativity Bias

Prathamesh Krisang

Negativity bias refers to the phenomenon where negative information or experiences have a stronger impact on our emotions and memories than positive ones. In other words, negative events tend to stick with us longer and more vividly than positive events.

Here are a few strategies to leverage negativity bias in marketing, sales, branding, design and advertising:

1. The Fear Factor

Using fear as a motivator in advertising can be effective in getting people to take action.

Example: A car insurance company may use an ad that shows the consequences of not having car insurance to encourage people to purchase a policy.

2. The Negative Reciprocity Effect

The Negative Reciprocity Effect refers to the idea that people tend to feel more loyal and committed to a brand or product if they have a negative experience with a competing brand or product. In marketing, this principle can be used to create a sense of loyalty and commitment to a brand or product.

Example: A soft drink company launching a marketing campaign that highlights the unhealthy ingredients used in a competing brand’s drink and natural ingredients used in their product.

3. The Negative Emotion Appeal

The Negative Emotion Appeal principle refers to the idea that negative emotions such as anger, or sadness can be used to create a strong impact and drive customer engagement.

Example: A public service announcement that uses a sad story to raise awareness about child abuse.

4. The Negative Social Proof

The Negative Social Proof principle refers to using the actions or words of others to influence the behavior of others. In marketing, this principle can be used to show the potential negative consequences of not using a product or service.

Example: A sunscreen brand highlighting testimonials from people who regretted not using sunscreen and got sunburned.

5. Creating a Sense of Loss Aversion

People are often more motivated to avoid losing something than they are to gain something. Creating a sense of loss aversion by highlighting what a customer will miss out on if they don’t take action can be a powerful motivator.

Example: A gym offering a limited-time discount on a membership package, with a warning that the offer will expire soon.

6. The Negative Empathy Gap

The Negative Empathy Gap refers to the idea that people tend to underestimate the negative impact of a situation. In marketing, this principle can be used to connect with the audience by highlighting the negative impact of a problem and presenting a solution.

Example: A healthcare company creating an awareness campaign about the negative impact of a specific health issue, and then offering their services as a solution.

7. The Power of Restrictions

The Negative Reactance Effect refers to the idea that people tend to want something more when it is restricted or not easily accessible. In marketing, this principle can be used to increase interest in a product or service by making it seem restricted or exclusive.

Example: A luxury car brand advertising a limited edition model with a small number of units available for purchase.

8. Using Negative Storytelling in Advertising

People are often more engaged and impacted by negative stories than by positive ones. Using negative storytelling in advertising can be a powerful way to capture attention and drive engagement.

Example: An anti-smoking campaign using a story of a person who has suffered the negative consequences of smoking to discourage people from smoking.

9. Using Negative Humor in Advertising

Negative humor can be a powerful tool for standing out and being memorable in advertising. By using negative humor, marketers can create ads that are more likely to be remembered and shared.

Example: A healthy food chain using a commercial that makes fun of the negative health consequences of eating fast food to promote their healthier options.

10. Using Negative Word-of-Mouth in Marketing

Negative word-of-mouth can be a powerful tool for building trust and credibility in marketing. By using negative word-of-mouth, marketers can show that their product or service is transparent and trustworthy.

Example: A company using negative feedback from customers and how it won them back, to show that they take customer complaints seriously and are transparent about their product or service.

Some other cognitive biases that are similar to negativity bias include:

Confirmation bias – the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.

Availability heuristic – the tendency to overestimate the probability of an event occurring based on its ease of recall or availability in memory.

Representativeness heuristic – the tendency to judge the probability of an event based on how similar it is to a prototype or stereotype.

The affect heuristic – a cognitive bias by which people make judgments about risk or value based on their emotional reactions to a particular event or product.


“The Power of Negative Emotions in Advertising” by Lisa Fortini-Campbell, published in the Journal of Advertising Research

URL: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2501/JAR-51-4-27-37

“Why Negative Advertising Works” by Jerry Wind, published in the Journal of Advertising Research

URL: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2501/JAR-49-3-33-40

“Negativity bias in political campaigns” by David P. Redlawsk, published in the Journal of Politics

URL: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/345541

“The Negative Impact of Positive Advertising” by Brad Fay published in the Journal of Marketing Research

URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3151521

“Negative advertising and its impact on consumer attitudes and purchase intent” by Chris Janiszewski and Eric M. Bradlow, published in the Journal of Consumer Research

URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/209540