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The power of negative thinking



We all know how important it is to think positively when brainstorming cool new ideas. To use a well-worn brainstorming mantra, ideas are like tender plant shoots – in order to grow they need ‘SUN‘: SUSPENSION of negativity & cynicism; UNDERSTANDING of what the idea’s trying to do; NURTURING to their full potential. Even demonstrably daft and impractical ideas can be a stepping stone to brilliant and workable concepts.

But post-brainstorm, ideas need to be developed into actual campaigns – the concept needs to be refined to be sure it gets the desired reaction. Somewhere during that process there should be a sanity check that the proposed activity isn’t setting you up for an undesirable response.

But it’s surprising how many activities, from some of the biggest names, seem to skip that step entirely.

I was reminded of this yet again this weekend, when a story appeared in my Facebook feed. Guardian journalist and Facebook friend-of-a-friend Olivia Solon had previously shared a screenshot on Instagram of a rape threat she’d received in her line of work (yeah I know: there are some charming people out there). As you might expect, the post got a number of comments from Olivia’s Instagram friends & followers. But the really interesting part is what happened next: for reasons best known to Facebook (owners of Instagram), this post was automatically converted into an ad that was shared with Olivia’s friends on Facebook.

Hideous fails

It’s not clear why this Instagram post was chosen, but it seems reasonable to guess it was because of its engagement level – it had received some comments and reactions on the platform, which had prompted an algorithm somewhere to convert it into a Facebook ad. But you don’t have to be very bright to anticipate what can go wrong with this sort of thing. An Instagram post that garners a lot of reaction isn’t necessarily a happy one: it might well be an announcement of bereavement, or a grim health diagnosis, or a burglary. Facebook already have form in this area.

You don’t have to look to far to find similar car crashes from brands. Remember the National Lottery / British Athletics Twitter campaign where your Twitter handle was displayed on a card being held up by an athlete? Simply change your Twitter handle to something ‘amusing’ and hoo boy… Or the #WalkersWave Twitter promotion where you could upload a selfie which was cleverly inserted into a clip with Gary Lineker, prior to being superimposed into an animated stadium of Mexican waving supporters? It did not end well when the internet wags got wind of it.

In both these cases the brands apologised, huffed and puffed about ‘inappropriate’ and ‘irresponsible’ use of the promotions. But who’s really to blame? A friend of mine used to say “Hindsight is 20:20″ – everything seems obvious after the event. But in the examples given above, the unfortunate developments were utterly predictable if you have a degree of experience and a lively mind. It’s not being negative to protect your brand by asking ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’. It doesn’t mean you can’t run the activity – but design out the potential pitfalls (in these cases, some kind of human intervention and moderation seems like a good idea).

If you’d like some great thinking for your next campaign (with a robust layer of sanity checking built in), contact us.


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This post was written by Simon Jones

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