In marketing, advertising and customer communication, negative emotions tend to be overlooked. No wonder. Companies, brand owners or agencies – everyone prefers to know what positively attaches customers to a brand or product, what customers have a good experience, an experience, what finally makes a consumer a customer and why they return to buy later. Sales are what counts! But from a research perspective, negative emotions are valuable.
Analyzing negative emotions is important from the brand’s point of view, to say the least. Suppose a product sells badly, or an advertising campaign is not successful. Then, by studying the emotions of customers, you can find out what they feel and how this translates into the perception of the product or campaign. Today we are talking about why it is worthwhile to study negative emotions in marketing and communications as well.
Negative emotions are… positive.
At the outset, let’s clarify beyond a shadow of a doubt: we will treat the phrase “negative emotions” in this article exclusively as a key word (and even a crowbar word!). All emotions that arise in us are necessary, and all of them also have their concrete consequences in action, so they are positive. By negative emotions we will mean here those whose common social perception has a contrasting connotation opposite to concepts like joy, surprise, or admiration.
Sadness, anger, fear, disgust… what are they, and what are they for?
Among the eight basic emotions (as in previous articles – we talk about them in the context of Plutchik’s theory), those having a negative or rather unpleasant to feel context include sadness, anger, fear, and disgust.
It is an emotion of loss. It will appear, for example, in a situation of loss of an important person, loss of material resources, inability to achieve a goal set for oneself or to satisfy a particular need. It is usually accompanied by other unpleasant emotions, sensations, and reactions from the body.
Sadness is one of the most essential human emotions for the reason that without it it is impossible… to feel joy. It also indicates what is significant to a person and can be a motivating factor to transform this emotion into action and achieve the desired goal. Related behaviors to sadness include passivity, numbness, isolation, surrender, and self-criticism.
This is an emotion that people are very much afraid of. At the same time, however, it is the one that in a crisis gives a person the most energy and motivation to act. Anger initiates fight or flight. It builds tension and alertness, causes the release of adrenaline – so it corresponds to the physiological response to stress.
Anger is a signal of disagreement and a response to threats. It appears when boundaries are violated and when needs are not met. It can lead to impulsive confrontation and even aggression against the cause of the emotion. However, it can be and directed at the feeler himself or be aggregated into sadness or a range of other emotions.
It is a reaction to danger. It often occurs with anger, and its intensity increases with the level of danger. It can sometimes turn into anxiety. Fear is a powerful motivator for action. It appears when there is a threat to, for example, health, life, possessions, when comparing the current situation to an analogous one in the past, when recalling a difficult situation, or when witnessing an event in which someone is being harmed.
Fear can activate even in the face of thoughts or imaginings. Behaviors of a person in fear include excessive focus on threatening factors, narrowing of attention, distraction, sometimes loss of self-control.
It is an emotion of a warning nature: It informs about health and life threats, such as poisoned or stale food, dangerous plants and animals, contagiously ill people, etc. Repulsion can activate in unpleasant, rejecting situations. We won’t list here specific examples of when it occurs, so as not to trigger a revulsion reflex in readers!
Negative emotions in marketing – why study them?
Planning communications, marketing and advertising campaigns or customer service cannot be unsupported by the emotions of the audience. Yet, as we mentioned at the beginning of the article, emotions with negative overtones are usually consistently overlooked in such activities.
Wrongly. With such an approach, we lose the rich palette of emotions (both primary and secondary) that help us evaluate the feelings, attitudes, and reactions of some target audience of our activities. And after all, these activities do not bring only positive effects and associations. After all, both positive and negative emotions can be excellent catalysts for action in marketing communications.
And – more importantly – particular negative emotions entail specific behavioral reactions from consumers, which a marketer or a public relations officer should anticipate in order to take countermeasures in advance.
These reactions are primarily:
- brand detachment,
- brand switching,
- negative PTO,
- complaints and claims.
What opportunities does emotion analysis offer in this regard?
By checking negative reactions (e.g., in social media comments, under articles, products, statements in forums, etc.), we can define and outline the space where people with certain prejudices or using negative stereotypes and heuristics will be found. Through emotion analysis, we will estimate their percentage and be able to correct our communication in the future, which will improve its effectiveness.
Using emotion analysis in text (a step further than just sentiment analysis), we can also see what kind of negative emotions our audience feels. Are they anger, fear and sadness, or rather more complex, multi-layered emotions.
Here again, let’s emphasize the superiority of emotion analysis over sentiment analysis. Consumers feeling anger, disgust, or sadness will be classified as feeling negative sentiment. However, emotion analysis will indicate that consumers feeling sadness will show a tendency to withdraw and be inactive. Meanwhile, those feeling anger will rather confront and try to remove the cause of their anger.
This is an important piece of information. After all, negative emotions can be harnessed to marketing and advertising efforts in such a case, provided, however, that the brand applying such a procedure hastens a solution that brings relief. One just has to remember not to overdo it with these negative emotions. When consumers are unsure of how the brand intends to solve their tension – they will leave.
How do consumers who show negative emotions behave?
Now let’s look at the different emotions in terms of their impact on the relationship with a particular brand or product.
Anger towards the brand and the behaviors that manifest it
Anger can be shown by consumers through indignation, irritation or resentment in varying degrees. Such a state can manifest itself when, for example, a brand strikes at the principals of its audience, when its actions are overly pushy or provocative. Anger will cause frustrated customers to become active. It is also an emotion that stimulates taking action to find a solution on one’s own to neutralize this emotion.
Customer anger is often caused by product failure or other situations where the company is clearly to blame. Customers often get angry when a product fails them or they experience other problems that are clearly the company’s fault. And even more so when it is easy to prove its responsibility for causing the defect. In this case, the reaction of consumers will be to file complaints, write grievances, etc. In addition, they will show their dissatisfaction by spreading negative opinions about the company (negative WOM). Finally, they will be eager to confront the company in the form of protests, boycotts, etc.
Interestingly, in the so-called cross, that is, the combination of felt primary emotions, anger is not infrequently accompanied by shame, for example, in the form of a sense of humiliation. A simple mechanism is at work here: the manifestation of anger will occur due to embarrassment or humiliation precisely. It is worth knowing that in such a situation, the behavioral reactions of both emotions will be very similar to each other.
Shame is also an emotion whose manifestation will occur when the consumer experiences inconvenience due to his own interaction towards a particular brand. Under such circumstances, consumer behavior may steer toward re-building a relationship with the brand, but already on a different basis. This relationship is definitely not going to occur in the manifestation of sadness, where a passive attitude will prevail.
Disgust – what it manifests itself as
This negative emotion will arise when a brand strikes at consumers’ core values, e.g., violates labor rights, uses reprehensible market practices, conducts environmental robbery, tests products on animals, etc. Consumers’ response to feeling revulsion will definitely be to switch to competing brands (brand switching). Negative WOM (word of mouth) can also often be observed. Manifestations of disgust can also be aggressive actions directed against the brand, such as organizing protests and boycotts.
Fear – how consumers who feel it react
It is associated with feelings of anxiety, a state of insecurity and insecurity. Customers feel fear when they perceive something in a brand or product that disturbs their aforementioned sense of security. This feeling, even subjective, will, over time, project negatively on the brand that the consumer feels threatens him.
Fear is absolutely a stimulant for action. Unlike anger, however, the action taken by customers is not to attack the source of frustration, but to run away from it and avoid an unpleasant confrontation. And this is what happens to brands that, in the opinion of customers, for example, pursue overly aggressive marketing policies – consumers avoid confronting them.
As a result, they develop attitudes such as reluctance to try a new product or use the company’s services in general (brand detachment). On the other hand, when they need a product with certain parameters, however, they may initiate a switch to a competing brand (brand switching).
Sadness and its manifestations in behavior
Sadness (and all its shades) is an emotion characterized by directing energy inward, into oneself (as is anger). Saddened consumers withdraw from interactions with brands and – often – from public space (including social media) in general. In consumers’ actions, sadness tends to be reflected in moving to a competing company and choosing an analogous product or service.
Sadness typically manifests itself jointly with fear because the behavioral reactions in both cases are similar. Causing withdrawal and passivity, sadness has the same effects for the brand as fear, the result of which is a flight from the relationship. Sadness, however, will not induce actions besides severing the relationship with the brand (and possibly brand switching), while fear can also initiate negative comments, filing complaints, writing complaints, denunciations, etc.
What else can cause negative emotions when it comes to marketing?
So, what is it that can consequently trigger consumer reactions toward a brand? There are several factors, such as:
- an inappropriate name or an annoying advertising slogan,
- excessive focus on one target group and preparation of advertising activities with only them in mind, resulting in the inability of others to identify with the brand,
- advertising narrative that is incompatible with reality,
- outdated, almost old-fashioned ideas for advertising campaigns,
- unpleasant impressions caused by direct contact with the point of sale or product,
- the company’s pursuit of a negatively perceived policy.
A consumer’s dissatisfaction with a brand policy most often leads to his expression of anger. The reason is usually the company’s lack of response or a response that is inappropriate from that person’s perspective. These factors cause an escalation of tension, resulting again in anger or even hatred.
Anger and dissatisfaction are commonly experienced negative emotions by customers towards a particular brand
Having a high power of affective action, these emotions cause a reaction in various forms. Therefore, from the point of view of companies, it is important to analyze one’s own actions in terms of the emotions that will be triggered in consumers. After all, by analyzing emotions, one can try to stop the angry and disgruntled from showing aggression. As a result, you can make sure they don’t file complaints and grievances, spread negative information or, finally, leave for a company that is less frustrating and offers analogous products or services.
Modern marketing tools. From studying negative emotions to using them
The most common consequences of consumers’ negative emotions are that they abandon the brand in question and move on to a competitor, and spread negative information. For these people, it is much easier, less stressful and requires less effort than even filling out a complaint form and sending it to the relevant unit of the company.
In such a situation, the company has to face loss of profits, a drop in sales and a decrease in the group of customers for its products. Moreover, it basically knows nothing about the reasons for such behavior of existing customers. If only for this reason, emotion analysis with a focus on negative emotions is so recommendable.
But that’s not all. Negative emotions carry a range of information that can be used in communications, advertising and marketing. Knowing the reasons for the occurrence of such emotions in their audience, a company, or brand can correct its policy in a given area, but also take up the fight to improve its position in the market.
How? Simply diagnose the negative emotions of your product’s target audience, but in the context of competing brands. Then you can use them to:
- make consumers more permanently attached to their brand (show the flaws of the competition to your customers),
- reducing brand switching,
- targeting your competitors’ audiences more effectively.
In marketing and advertising, brands even use strategies based on constructing activities that arouse strictly negative emotions
Of course, the assumption is that as soon as they are aroused, the recipients will be provided with a feeling of relief. Examples of this are most often found in social campaigns.