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Negative Marketing Campaigns

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007
Posted in Profiles & Interviews by Joel Gross

What is a negative public relations campaign? It’s the attack ads typically used by politicians ripping on their opponents. Negative marketing is Pepsi advertising that it’s products taste better than Coke’s in blind taste tests. It’s the propaganda nations use when trying to change the mindset of either its own populace or the populace of a target nation. Negative marketing campaigns can be extraordinarily effective when implemented correctly.

American propaganda reached it’s peak during World War 2. One of the primary objectives of American propagandists was to dehumanize the enemy. Marketers created poster art depicting Japanese and Germans as demonic animals intent on raping and subjugating the world. President Roosevelt had massive amounts of wartime power and was able to exert considerable influence over commercial media. He had the media bombard the United States constantly with themes of Us vs. Them, Good vs. Evil and always showed the Japanese and Germans as evil people preying on the weak. Nazi Germany and Japan engaged in similar negative marketing campaigns for their own people. Adolf Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf about different methods of propaganda and gave a basic how-to course in controlling popular sentiment.

Propaganda launched today by the United States government is mostly ineffectual. American leaders today are no longer able to have the same level of control over media outlets as the Roosevelt administration had. More importantly, they are missing the unifying visions: Bush has not laid out a clear enemy (“terrorists” doesn’t count), nor has he emphasized the negative characteristics of the enemy and has neglected to make a strong advertising push to win the hearts and minds of his own people. The American government faces all time lows in public opinion towards our domestic and foreign policies. His enemies on the other hand have realized the power of public relations and completely dominate the hearts and minds of their citizens. Al Jazeera, the Arabic language media congolomerate, and other localized media outlets present a unified theme and have clearly outlined their enemies. We will lose this war in the long run if we cannot find good leadership that can launch a proper negative public relations campaign.

Wal-Mart for the last six or seven years has faced a difficult negative public relations campaign. Grassroots organizations have launched negative websites about the company, attended shareholder meeting and decried real and imagined abuses and been featured prominently in the media. As a result, Wal-Mart’s share prices have stagnated badly even as their profits continue to rise. Wal-Mart’s expansion is facing great difficulty as well, with many major cities and counties drafting regulations that prevent Wal-Mart from opening stores in their area.

Many individuals have also faced negative marketing campaigns, such as George W. Bush, Don Imus and many others. Most have brought the criticism upon themselves, but sometimes organizations have stood in the background fueling the fire to help bring down their opposition.

During the 2008 presidential elections, we will be hit with millions of dollars in negative marketing campaigns and attack ads. Every candidate will do everything in his power to trash the other candidates as much as possible while trying keeping his/her own image clean.

Recently, I have begun to get much better at public relations and reputation management, including my abilities to launch and run negative marketing campaigns. I may open my own PR firm at some point. Many recent powerful marketing campaigns have been run entirely online with great success. The world of media is moving online and the smart call by any PR firm out there would be to adjust to the paradigm shift before others do and establish a strong market presence early.