Madeleine Ritzker

Madeleine Ritzker

Content Writer

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Whether you buried your head in the cushions or screamed your opinion into the squall, there’s no doubt about it – the world was caught up in a storm of negativity and outrage during the recent American presidential elections. Howls of accusations and bitterness rang as loudly as back-fence cats.

It escalated to the point where I became numb to the caterwauling – so much so that when I woke up to hear the results on November 8th, I felt absolutely nothing about one of the most historical electoral outcomes of all time.

The only thing that I could think of was this campaign launched by The Garden Collective, a creative agency in Toronto, Ontario:

While the dialogue surrounding the election became increasingly tense and confrontational, Tell America It’s Great chimed in using an entirely different tone of voice – positivity.

The idea

Canadians were encouraged to visit tellamericaitsgreat.com and submit a video of themselves doing exactly that – listing a reason or two why their neighbours to the south are actually pretty awesome, despite the struggles they’re caught up in at the moment.

While the video may have had no stake in the actual result, it was picked up by The New York Times, CNN and the BBC (to name a few). And out of everything I’ve read and seen about the election, it was the only thing I can remember now that some time has passed.

Injecting some positivity into your audience’s day can have a lasting impact. So here’s how to turn that frown upside-down and benefit from a few smiles in your next campaign.

The science of positivity

The concept of looking on the bright side in a marketing campaign isn’t a new one – brands like Coke, McDonalds and Dove have been doing it for years. But what makes it so effective?

According to a recent study conducted in Belgium, ads that have a pleasant or positive tone resonate with viewers much more than negative or information-based ads.

The study analysed audience responses to a wide range of ads and found positive messages improved the viewer’s impression of the brand, more so than ads that had a negative or neutral undertone. This was even the case with ads for products that had little or no relevance to the viewer’s lifestyle.

Kissmetrics blogger Walter Chen shares similar insights. He cites psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, who argues that positive messages broaden a viewer’s attention span and make them more likely to remember what they’ve seen.

Fredrickson says positivity opens us up to alternative ways of thinking, so we’re more likely to consider new possibilities. It promotes a “‘we’ instead of ‘me’” mindset – kind of like how a few individuals can speak up until they’ve rallied a country to join in and give its neighbouring nation a confidence boost.

In short, using positivity in your campaign can:

  • Improve overall impression of your brand
  • Increase brand memorability
  • Develop a personal connection between your brand and your audience
  • Make audiences more likely to consider what you’re promoting

Beyond adhering to a positive theme, some brands use our evolutionary tendencies to take things a step further. Studies show we’d rather see the glass half full, which is what scientists officially refer to as ‘positive framing’.

When you present people with a situation and put a positive twist on it, they’re more likely to bite.

So if you say “there’s a 75% chance your hair will be more voluminous if you use our coconut serum,” there’s a better chance I’ll go buy your shampoo than if you tell me “only 25% of women didn’t enjoy crazy volume after using our product.”

Saving Christmas with positivity

If you really want to take advantage of our genetic predispositions, pair positive framing with fear of loss – scare us with a risky, negative product and then save the day with a positive solution.

Positive framing dictates the holiday ad formula: something cute gets itself into a bit of bother, but the spirit of the season kicks in and somehow, someone saves the day. Whether it’s Aldi’s carrot, Sainsbury’s realistic families, John Lewis’ dog, or the sad kid who annoyed his sister one too many times and asked Mrs. Claus (and M&S) to step in, we’re repeatedly won over by a hint of gloom followed by an outpouring of cheer.

It doesn’t matter if we’re aware of it or not: positivity works on us. Our impression of the brand improves, we remember the characters (thanks to the oh-so-catchy hashtags) and our cold, consumer hearts warm up to the prospect of including said brand into our holiday routine.

I’m not saying we’re blind to the manipulation we undergo every November/December. But we love at least one of these feel-good moments enough that we’re willing to forgive the clear-cut recipe. For some of us, it wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

How to get positive

It’s easy to run with the shock factor, the tabloid headline, the gritty sex-drugs-and-rock-n’-roll of a campaign.

So how can you turn your frown upside-down?

Use a case study

Everyone loves a story, and while we hate-to-love a downward spiral, sometimes it’s better to appeal to your audience’s softer side.

That’s what Boots did with its Christmas ad – it focused on the half a million women who work on Christmas Day. But instead of stressing the disappointment of not being able to spend it at home with their families, Boots thanked them with a make-over and threw a celebration for the women and their loved ones.

Put a spin on it

There are things we can be broken records about – traffic, early mornings, the weather.

But Kerrygold decided to stop complaining about the rain with an ad set in the wettest place in Ireland. It features cheerful people outside, doing things like having picnics, reading the newspaper and getting married, despite the torrential downpour.


Its glass-half-full take? “The wetter the weather, the better the butter.”

Lighten up

Water conservation is something we associate with solemn charity appeals, but Water Aid decided to try a different angle and put the issue into first-world terms we could relate to – and maybe feel a bit sheepish about.


While the ad doesn’t necessarily look at the bright side of drought, Water Aid approaches the issue in a less direct manner, and therefore challenges the audience in a brand new way.

It’s easy to run with the idea that cheerful is cheesy and people are more susceptible into being shocked or frightened into action. But think about the last brand you warmed to – what was the overall tone of its message?

Whether it’s by being inspirational, thoughtful or a little bit cheeky, why not take the high road and bring a little extra shine to your next campaign?

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