Answers for Adam: Should marketers follow Kyle Sandilands’ lead?

With  people more likely to notice the negative Adam Ferrier asks should marketers dial up the negative for more sales? 

If you have an ugly feature on your face – guess what other people notice. In fact they notice it even more than you think – sorry. In fact, it’s normally how we remember other people ‘You know Bob – the guy with the big hairy nose’.

We pay attention to his big hairy nose for the same reason we notice negative, alarmist headlines in the news. Or why advertising often uses scares and shock tactics. Or why 74per cent of the available words we can use to describe someone’s personality are negative.



The reason why we notice the ugly and negative is because all of us have an in-built ‘negativity bias’. This means we are hard wired to absorb and pay attention to negative messages in society rather than the positive (ever watched ‘Worlds Most Embarrassing Bodies’?) The origins of the negativity bias probably lie in the fact that paying attention to the negative in our environment (sabre tooth tiger in tree) was far more important for survival than appreciating the positive (a nicely formed flower on ground). Consequently, we have (around) six* primary emotions; Joy, anger, surprise, disgust, fear, and sadness – with only one of the six primed for a positive experience.

The current example of using negativity for ratings is ‘Kyle and Jackie O’ (Jackie plays an important role in this duo (her ‘Oh Kyle you can’t do that’ acts as a clever post-rationalising prompt for the listener making what Kyle says both shocking and acceptable to the listener). They rate through the roof, at least in part, because of a series of humiliating, divisive and generally nasty and negative on air behaviour.

Kyle and Jackie O

Kyle and Jackie O

This is a real issue facing radio stations today as ratings are revealed. It’s easier to rate being negative (cue Kyle or any number of shock jocks) than it is to be nice and positive. Perhaps someone needs to ask at what cost?

So my question is this fellow media owners / marketers / advertisers. Would you rather get an easy win by dialling up the negative? Or would you forgo this win for more positive content / headlines / advertising?

Adam Ferrier is a consumer psychologist and CSO at independent creative:media agency CumminsRoss. @adamferrier


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