Negative Branding: What Is It and How To Use It

Brand perception set the tone for building customer relationship. In today’s world, buying decision is influenced by the consumer’s opinions and experiences. 

Negative branding is an aggressive strategy used by companies to paint their competitors in a bad light. It is a technique that has been criticized as unethical because it is perceived as sabotage towards its rivals. But businesses still use it to get their services or products in the limelight because it works.

So, how do brands do it? How do they use negative branding and get positive results?

What is Negative Branding?

In marketing, it is when you tap into the negative emotion of your consumers, such as unhappiness, frustration, or distress, to obtain a response in favor of your brand or service. In advertising, it is regarded as an antagonistic campaign strategy

The variety of negative branding is an effective solution to connect with your audience by showing that you relate to their emotions. The format is simple, identify what consumers hate, use this emotion, and demonstrate the same feeling towards the brand or business, with a touch of humor to make it more agreeable. 

Negative advertising is the best use for aspirational brands. They are different from regular brands since they appeal to only a particular group of demographics. But the most vital factor in negative branding is it can’t be used in the wrong sense, especially if your audience doesn’t approve of being taunted. 

Negative branding or marketing doesn’t apply to small businesses. Only established and large companies will have the capacity to implement such a daring tactic. But it can’t simply be deployed because it would be good for business. One wrong move can damage a brand’s image and reputation. This tactic will require proper planning, timing, and implementation.

How does Negative Branding Work?

Since this strategy is often discouraged, marketers who initiate to use this for their campaigns will have to ensure that the business or brand is already well established and have credible loyalty from consumers for it to work. 

Negative branding isn’t the most ethical approach to market a brand’s product or service, as it can be compared to someone gossiping or spreading false rumors about you to slander your name. Thus, competitors are not taking it positively because consumers tend to view their products negatively and avoid buying from them. 

An excellent example of negative branding is Samsung. This brand always roasts their rival, Apple, over their smartphones, from image resolution, device performance, and removal of their headphone jacks. Although some of these commercials are officially deleted, a few channels on YouTube have managed to keep them for entertainment purposes. 

The downside to this is it works for companies because it allows them to gain exposure and lure consumers into purchasing their products instead of their competitors.

7 Negative Marketing and Branding Strategies That Have Positive Impact

When “feel good” campaigns don’t always work, a little negativity can only be used if done correctly. Here are some strategies to channel your brand’s inner villain when marketing the business: 

1. Creating Negative Personas

Negative personas often referred to as “exclusionary personas,” are the opposite of a buyer persona. While a buyer persona embodies the ideal customer that allows you to identify what marketing strategy sells to them, the negative persona is the people who you don’t want to target in your marketing campaigns. 

Negative branding uses these personas to stop creating content that attracts the wrong people or allows them to see and engage with your brand’s content to increase your reach but preventing them from going down the sales funnel by allocating them a low lead score. 

2. Leverage Exclusivity

People are always curious, and businesses use this to entice the market to learn more. This strategy is more of a sales tactic, but marketers can use it too. Telling someone they can’t have something because it’s limited or exclusive would make them want more. 

Tell your market about an exclusive offer for the first five people to respond to a social media post. Offering them something limited, even without telling people what it is, always works. 

This tactic is mainly used in the eCommerce industry, especially for online retail shops. Seeing campaigns such as popular stocks running out would make consumers grab their credit cards to purchase. 

3. Constructing Negative Titles or Headlines

Negative headlines work well when it gives information or alerts people. For example, if you read a blog article with a headline: “5 Ways To Improve Your Marketing Skills”, this headline would pique your interest. 

But throwing in some negativity and rephrasing your headline with: “Things You Shouldn’t Do In Marketing,” which one would you be more likely to click on? 

Human brains are hardwired for negativity, thus the reason for remembering negative experiences more than positive ones. The negativity bias is the human’s tendency to remember negative things more than the positive vividly. 

Headlines are there to let readers know that they found a solution. However, using negative titles or headlines shouldn’t be taken lightly and shouldn’t connect the negative aspect and the reader of the article. 

4. Bond Over Negative Experiences

Although the world consists of very diverse people, there are still many common denominators when it comes to things they dislike: being stuck in traffic, sitting in an endless meeting, abominable and impolite people, and so on. 

Sharing negative experiences allows your brand to attract the market that relates to you and helps you build that relationship to increase customer loyalty and engagement. People want to know they are not alone. Transitioning back to a positive solution must be done carefully, or you will lose customers. 

Tapping into the emotional touchpoint will allow your customers to think of you as a friend more than a corporate powerhouse. Brand loyalty relies on bonding with your audience, and sharing negative experiences is a solution to that. 

5. Making Fun of Your Brand

If you slip up, you can be the first to condemn yourself before others and make a little fun of your product. The tactic is to turn something negative into a positive through humor. Making fun of yourself will make your brand seem more human, it’s less risky, and it’s an excellent way to garner attention. 

When KFC is faced with chicken shortages back in 2018 when they changed its supplier, it led to multiple store closures. It resulted in massive criticism from consumers all over social media. 

In response, KFC issued an apology but made a clever play on their brand’s lettering as means of apology. 

Their apology went viral on social media, proving that handling a PR disaster by being clever and humorous can solve numerous business problems. 

6. Poke Fun At Your Competitors

This strategy is perhaps the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about negative branding or negative marketing. Still, this strategy is seldom implemented because it can be tricky. 

Healthy competition is a good thing, but this strategy may backfire if executed poorly, and your audience might think badly of you. Even so, when you leverage on false claims. 

You can either focus on the negative side of your competitor’s offers or focus on the positive side of your products, where you can establish a gap and subtly highlight what your advantage is. 

7. Taking a Stand Even Though It Is Controversial

This strategy takes courage because you risk the chance of losing customer following and loyalty. But if you have the confidence to take a stand on a particular topic and are willing to take that chance, then it may turn into a positive thing, and your business can be branded as socially responsible. 

There are uncertainties to controversial marketing because your brand could be viewed as capitalizing on issues to sell your product or service. However, you can use it to position your brand as a thought leader and define yourself in the market’s eyes.

Brands That Uses Negative Branding

Apart from Samsung, as mentioned in the example above, companies like Pepsi have also used negative branding as their strategy. 

Pepsi vs. Coca-Cola

Pepsi released a commercial where a boy uses two cans of Coca-Cola to dispense a Pepsi from the vending machine. The ad is an example of trolling your competitors in favor of your brand. Another example from Pepsi is an ad they have released for Halloween, in which their competitor responded.

Costa Coffee

Another brand that has been making use of negative branding is Costa Coffee with its campaign #CrimesAgainstCoffee. Before Halloween, the brand released a day-long campaign, offering free coffee to those who have been to their competitor’s coffee shop. 

The campaign’s idea was to entice other competitor’s customers to try Costa’s coffee just right after their usual coffee to show that their coffee tastes better. Not only that, but they also offer to refill the other brand’s coffee cup to promote recycling.

BMW vs. Audi

Known for their rivalry regarding technology and advertisement, these German car manufacturers have taken things to the next level. 

It started with an advertisement created by BMW pointing out the advantages of their vehicle, such as reliability. The ad’s point was that having service centers is pointless, comparing it to having paramedics at a chess match. 

Audi took this chance to interfere with their billboard by replacing it a few days later, challenging BMW, which reads, “Your move, BMW.” The other brand responded by buying the opposite billboard placement as the billboard war goes on. 

This campaign went viral on social media and multiple news sites to pick it up and quickly write an article about it. This campaign strategy has become a favorite amongst marketers.

Why Brand Perception Matters?

How a business conveys its message and its interaction with its product or company contributes to the overall brand perception. According to a global survey by Yotpo, customer loyalty is on the rise, not only due to the pandemic but also for businesses that support consumers during a difficult time. 

Brand perception influences your bottom line. Customers and their opinions matter, especially when it comes to word-of-mouth marketing. A positive perception of your brand means that consumers will choose your business over a competitor, and there is a possibility of them bringing more business to you through referrals. 

If they negatively perceive your brand, consumers will choose the competitor over your business and influence other potential customers not to conduct business with you. They make judgment calls based on their experiences, online reviews, or stories they read about the company. 

Business tends to assume knowing their consumer’s emotions, through engagement and thorough research. These interactions act as a foundation to escalate brand perception. Big companies such as Samsung utilize consumers’ frustrations through campaigns that can affect a customer’s buying decision. 

How Will You Position Yourself as a Brand?

Brand positioning can go unnoticed, but it is a vital technique behind a brand strategy. As a brand, you have to think, where do you fall among your competitors? And, how can you position your brand in the marketplace? 

First, you have to identify what sets your brand apart. Is it your story or personality? McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King offer the same type of products, but their characters are entirely different, that consumers can distinguish between the three. 

Secondly, look at your competitors and see if what your brand is trying to portray would apply to them. Each business has its unique aspects, and highlighting these features would help with how you will position your brand. 

Once you’ve identified your difference from your competitors, it is necessary to be proactive in maintaining your brand’s position and continuously get involved in the subject matter. Changes can happen, and your brand can evolve, but who you are as a brand will remain the same. 

What If Negative Branding Didn’t Work?

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything all.”

It’s necessary always to contemplate the pros and cons of negative branding and consider the possibility that it will backfire. You must ensure that this negativity will not be lost on your audience and think about your buyer persona’s preference. 

Use political ads as an example and think about how the bickering gets annoying in the long run. As a brand, you don’t want to come off as petty and create unnecessary noise to be out there. 

If this strategy fails, do more research, realign your goals, and give it time. Big companies have been unable to craft the perfect negative marketing strategy, but they managed to overcome it. You have to remember that the negativity you draw would need some positivity to balance it. 


So what does negative branding indicates for you as a brand? 

Having negative information spread about your brand wouldn’t be good for business, and establishing a good reputation will take time and effort. Negative branding isn’t always the answer, especially for those that are just starting up. 

To stand out, you have to go through different marketing strategies and say something memorable and shareable. But this doesn’t mean that you can make fun of your brand or your competitors out of the blue.

Negative marketing can positively impact your marketing strategy. You can use it to identify the market you don’t want to attract, build a relationship with your audience, and position yourself as a leader in your industry. When implemented with caution, negative branding can be effective. 

The main thing is, do not get fascinated with the quick results brought by negative marketing to your business. Instead, develop a strategy to promote your service or product to earn respect from your consumers and competitors. In business, hate is not something you’d want to participate in. 


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