Can negative emotions have a positive effect?

An effective ad must activate positive emotions. However, an ad can still be effective if it also activates negative emotions. There's an important formula for this: the negative (e.g. the problem) must be followed immediately by something positive (e.g. the solution). Read on to discover this method.

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Negative emotions in ads can be effective with the right conditions

Neuromarketing Learning 9 - Kunnen negatieve emoties een positief effect hebben? - Neuromarketing - Febreze reclameLearning 1 showed that an effective ad activates more positive emotions than negative ones. Does this mean that you should never use negative emotions in an ad?

The answer is no. You can use negative emotions effectively, under the right conditions.

The most important condition is this: when you show a negative event (the problem), it must be immediately followed by a positive event (the solution).

This Febreze ad from Procter & Gamble is a good example. In fact, it's their secret formula. Febreze even won the Effie award in the USA with this ad; the Effie is awarded to ads proving effective behavioural change in consumers.


Negative emotions need to be followed by positive ones

At the beginning of the ad, the negative emotions Fear and Disgust are activated by the dirty images of the waste container. Immediately after this scene, Febreze offers the solution - not surprisingly - by using Febreze.

This ad is a classic example of Fear Appeal: using the activation of fearful emotions to achieve desired behaviours. Essentially, this strategy offers an easy resolution to the negative feelings of the viewer - using the offered products/services.

In the video timeline below, this Fear Appeal can be clearly observed. 

The video timeline shows the balance between positive and negative emotions. The 0-line is neutral, everything above it means positive emotions are activated and everything below it means negative emotions are activated.

You can see that the line drops when the waste container comes into view, because Fear and Disgust are activated. When one woman sprays Febreze, allowing the other woman to inhale deeply and express happiness, the line rises again (positive emotions are activated).


Make sure that you use the 'negative-positive formula' if your ads contain elements that activate negative emotions. In the blog post below, the Procter & Gamble formula is explained in 4 easy steps. Check it out!

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