Negative Marketing Works

Companies know it. Your town gossip knows it. Politicians have known it forever. Today’s GOP especially has become amazingly adept at it. Negative marketing works.

It may not work on everyone, but it is effective and the tactic is now an essential tool to any winning political campaign. Many of us despise it, but in reality a main reason we hate it is because deep down we know it works.

You know who else knows it works? Our good friend here at Docudharma, pinche tejano.

His essay last night on John Edwards was an expert piece of negative marketing. By using John’s own words against him along with a negative but plausible spin on his changing tune, it seemed obvious to me that pt’s video essay was going to have an impact.

But how much of an impact? I was curious, so I did some research.

I found a study from Notre Dame published just before last year’s elections that provides some fascinating insight, and even allowed me to estimate the true impact of pinche’s piece.

Here are some key excerpts:

“People who use negative ads have long been convinced they work,” says coauthor Joan Phillips, a professor of marketing at Mendoza. “Academics have just had a hard time proving it.”…Until now, it seems.

Their study showed the effect of backlash, the effect against your opponent, and the effect of strengthened support in your opponent’s base. Have a read for their methods, but here are the general results:

There was…an expected backlash to the negative spots: 3.3 percent of students became less supportive of their candidate after viewing his negative ads.

As irate as they made viewers, though, the attack ads were surprisingly effective. After watching a negative ad sponsored by the opposition, 13.8 percent of viewers became more fervent defenders of their own candidate. But, surprisingly, the same number of viewers-13.8 percent-moved closer…to the candidate they had previously opposed.

Put another way, if 100 Kerry supporters watched a Bush-sponsored negative advertisement lambasting the senator for, say, “flip-flopping” on his opposition to the war in Iraq, 14 of those viewers tended to close ranks and support Kerry even more. Another 14 Kerry supporters who saw the ad moved closer to Bush.


So let’s do a quick mathematical exercise. On any given day, there are 150,000 plus readers over at Daily Kos. Pinche’s essay reached the rec list and at last count had over 900 comments. I don’t think it is at all unreasonable to assume 10,000 people read his essay.

How many of those people were Edwards supporters? Well, according to the monthly surveys, Edwards has been averaging 33% support from DKos readers. I wouldn’t be surprised if a higher percentage of supporters read pinche’s piece (provocative title and all), but let’s use 33% and estimate 3,300 Edwards supporters read the essay.

Now some simple math – 3,300 supporters X 13.8% swayed = 438 minds affected against Edwards. Let’s put a big MoE on this number due to all sorts of unknown factors. I’ll use 20% just for kicks.

So congratulations pinche! (may I call you pinche?) By my estimate your essay caused 350-525 Edwards supporters to begin doubting his viability with the ‘down side’ being another 350-525 have rallied around him. And you pissed off relatively few of your own friends in the process. Not bad for a night’s work. If you don’t like John Edwards that is.

The larger point in all this being we need to watch for these tactics when they are turned against our eventual nominee or anyone else we support in 2008. We know they work. We know they are a net plus for the GOP, simply because they are such experts at the tactic.

The question is, how to do we blunt the effect?

Beats the hell outta me.


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  1. I love shit like this. Probably boring as hell to many, but to me this type of information is powerful.

    For example, last night Buhdy posted a response to the negative whispering campaign currently happening elsewhere against this website. If we look at the situation from a purely tactical manner, I would question whether answering the ‘charges’ would be worth the negative of drawing attention to the so-called dispute. The research above would suggest ‘it depends’.

    If the intent is to build total readership, it may be wise to ignore this stuff. But if the intent is to build site loyalty, it is fine to discuss as many will rally around the flag.

    Like I said – fascinating.

    Full disclosure – I was completely un-swayed by pinche’s argument (moderate Edwards supporter here) but I was influenced by the whisper campaign by those other websites. Count me as a stronger supporter of our budding (or is that buhdding?) community today than I was yesterday.


  2. I helped to create a free ad that liberal blogs posted in the last week of Campaigning in 2006.  The Dems had all but run out of money and were getting beat up in a lot of places.

    Bob created the words and I placed images behind the words in slideshow format.

    It was not negative it was honest and it directed people towards voting for Democrats if they wanted a change.

    The ad worked, unfortunately most of the elected Dems didn’t understand the message.

  3. and I liked pinche’s essay/diary. I am not deaf or blind and of course know what Edwards said or did before becoming a candidate. It made me think trough what brought me to support him and how, or whether these words by him were negatives, or even lies.

    Negatives are in the eye of the beholder. If inflaming for or against is all you have to offer forget it. I worked in marketing for years, and while negatives may work they are also prone to backfire. With the bill of goods we have been sold as a nation, I believe people have had enough. Make believe boogeymen are not half as scary or negative as what we have. When negative gets to the surreal point we have now it becomes ludicrous, and just inaffective.

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