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Bad News May Sell Papers, But Perhaps Positivity Sells Everything Else?

Much of our work is in the creative sector where our experience helps international organisations to promote the rights of artists and creators. It’s a fascinating area, an extremely worthwhile cause and, due to the complexity of audiences and messaging, it presents a highly satisfying challenge.

One of the core objectives is to raise awareness of the threats facing creators all over the world and the most common way this is done is by letting the audience know the price of inaction. It’s the same “if you don’t do this, then something bad will happen” messaging that parents use to encourage children to brush their teeth or tidy their rooms.

Unfortunately you only get to make this same call a couple of times before people begin to wonder whether you’re crying wolf and the effectiveness of the campaign starts to diminish.

Seeking Out the Positives

Our advice is always the same: wherever possible, seek out the positive and favour the carrot over the stick. Because “bad news sells newspapers”, it’s also in abundance today. The public is bombarded with this kind of messaging and so its competition for attention is far more severe than were we to somehow find a more uplifting perspective.

This is not always so easy to do and it’s certainly not right for every kind of issue. But it can put a completely different face onto a campaign and reposition the communicating organisation as proactive and solution-focused. Both are positive brand associations that are well worth having.

Example: Campaigning for Women Directors

A debate has been raging recently in filmmaking regarding the significant lack of women in key directorial roles. Thanks to the tireless efforts of organisations such as DirectorsUK, awareness is growing and media attention has produced some interesting high profile coverage.

(Incidentally, if you don’t believe this is a real issue, we’d suggest spending five minutes at the extraordinary Shit People Say to Women Directors.)

Much of the supporting data for this worthy campaign makes serious reading. It highlights the unfairness of the current situation and casts a dark cloud over an industry that is complicit in allowing it continue. This could make an effective call for action, but is there another way to position this argument?

Taking a Different Position

Here is a three-minute clip of our favourite arts journalist talking about this challenging issue but finding a completely positive approach to position it.

In the video, he uses a narrative approach that perhaps we can all learn from. In proper journalistic fashion, he places the news at the “top of the page” by quickly pointing out the precise issue at stake and calling on a few compelling proof points to illustrate it. Then he changes gear to leave the negative commentary behind.

He begins instead describing positive outcomes by talking about all of the great work done by women directors over the past year. He lists his favourite films and describes how the female perspective in directing has made these works all the more interesting and compelling.

The thought that he leaves the audience with however, is the clincher.

“If this is the kind of [great] work that can be done in an environment as chauvinistic as it clearly is now … imagine what you would have with a level playing field”

Within this sentence is a very differently positioned argument. While the video may address the same issue as everybody else, this sentence and the attitude throughout the piece presents it in a manner that is:

  1. Entirely positive
  2. Focused clearly on the desired objective rather than the incumbent problem
  3. Working to raise awareness on the benefits of action rather than the danger of inactivity

There may be a lesson here for all kinds of brand and marketing communication. By choosing wherever possible to adopt this kind of messaging strategy we might increase our chances of finding support amongst an audience that is inundated with bad news and dire warnings every day.

Importantly, we might also differentiate our stance from other organisations in our space that take a traditional approach to the issue. In non-profit campaigning especially, could help to send a clear signal that we’re the the people to work with, rather than against, if a solution needs to be found.

Bad news may sell papers, but perhaps positivity sells everything else?

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