Is Anger Effective Persuasion?

Another election has passed, and the negative attack ads are still ringing in my ears.  Campaign strategists are convinced that hatred and anger moves the needle. As Slate Magazine reports, the North Carolina Senate election was the most negative race in the nation. Nearly seven out of 10 ads were negative in the down-to-the-wire contest.

If making people angry works so well, why don’t corporations use attack ads?  Imagine a Marriott hotel campaign attacking your quality of sleep at Sheraton?  How about an anti-Burger King ad paid for by the committee to promote McDonald’s?  The answer goes beyond a fear of lawsuits.

Over time, inspiring anger and hatred violates fundamental principles of effective communication.   I previously wrote an article on FWV’s Social Soup about how “You can’t win an argument.” In the practice of PR, arguing builds resistance in your audience. It provokes the opposition to be defensive instead of listening to your communication. It prevents you from shaping beliefs and changing perceptions.

There are three major problems with using anger as a communication tactic.

  • Anger is expensive – If you want to fuel a bonfire, you need a lot of wood. Similarly, if you want to fuel anger, you need a lot of reach and frequency. A record $111-million was spent on the North Carolina Senate race.
  • Anger is short term – Anger can move the needle in an election, but only temporarily. It is extraordinarily difficult to sustain anger as a long term emotion. Angry target audiences  have a need for equilibrium and transition back to a peaceful state.

The core of a professional public relations campaign is to instill goodwill into your target audiences. Positivity is more affordable, more sustainable and its impact is longer lasting than negativity.  At French/West/Vaughan, we make an analogy that proactive public relations is like making “deposits into a trust bank.”  When you need to make a withdrawal, you need goodwill equity available to you. So, smile. The feeling lasts longer.

– Chris Shigas, Senior Vice President at FWV

Nov, 06, 2014

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