Palmerston North

What’s in a word?

Negative advertising elicits an unintended emotional response.

My wife and I recently moved to Palmerston North on the North Island of New Zealand. It’s a beautiful place, but has one downside – an inferiority complex.

Palmerston North doesn’t seem to have a great reputation in the eyes of the rest of the country, and I couldn’t see why.  “Being from Palmy” (as it’s colloquially known) was not something to be proud of apparently. Mostly when I heard the word “Palmy”, particularly from outsiders, it was either spoken in a negative tone or followed by a critical remark about the place.

Our local Council, in its wisdom, decided . . .

on an advertising drive to make locals proud of the place and show off all its attributes and qualities. Central to this drive was a nomenclature change in advertising and many official documents, using the nickname “Palmy” in place of Palmerston North, under the banner of “Palmy Proud”, and “Make Palmy Proud”.

All well intended. However, the challenge with using a nickname in a more official capacity is that if that nickname has any negative connotations, then it takes a massive effort to change people’s perception. Unfortunately, it may also have the reverse effect of reinforcing the negative undertone previously associated with the nickname because of the emotional response it engenders.

I now have some real concerns with Council’s latest attempts at promotion with their “PALMY, FAMOUS FOR BEING BORING” advertising. This appears to be negative advertising at its worst.

Palmy is Boring advertisement
Palmy is Famous for Being Boring - Advertisement

Negative advertising is a tactic that taps into negative emotions — such as fear, irritation, anger, or sadness — in order to elicit an emotional response from the customer, often in favour of what a brand offers or against what a brand opposes or competes with.

In the advertising industry, negative advertising is often used (very carefully and very selectively) to:

  • exclude certain customer groups and build exclusivity of existing clients, or
  • create a bond over shared negative experiences.

Positive advertising as opposed to negative advertising, has four key elements:

  • It’s "on strategy" with our purpose and lists meaningful features and benefits.
  • It communicate a simple, single message that we want people to understand and remember.
  • Is credible – people can believe what they see and hear – they’d like to be part of it.
  • Is truthful, ethical and elicits a positive emotional response.

I recently read an article on BBC News, about the new way firms are testing their latest ads – not with focus groups, but with high-tech surveys that identify very quickly not whether people like the ad or not, but their immediate emotional response.

As Ms Collinge, head of System 1, a UK based marketing research firm said, "We don't want to ask people what they're going to do [whether they will buy the product or not], because we know that's not very predictive of how an advert is going to perform, because people go into their left brain and start thinking too much.”

Psychologist, Stuart Duff, of UK business coaching firm Pearn Kandola, added that if brands want to reach customers ‘hope’ is the emotional response they should focus on. "Emotions are critical to our memory," he explains. "We do not remember factual or bland information easily, but something that is moving or uncomfortable will be committed to memory with ease. What are the three most powerful emotions? I would suggest that fear, guilt and hope”.

"Hope is associated with feelings of joy and relief, and offers a way out from fear and guilt. It is hope that will move us forward and trigger feelings of trust in the product."

So, my hope is that our local council will twig to the use of positive advertising that touches on the emotional response of ‘hope’ and make all Palestinians proud of “being from Palmy”.