Positive vs. Negative in Higher Education Marketing Campaigns


Many advertisements that we see are positive, and blatantly so. Have you ever seen a negative ad that’s trying to sell you soda? No – instead the images are usually of people enjoying themselves, having a good time and sipping on a can of Coca Cola. The more soft and positive ads involve family, togetherness and a subtle form of happiness. There’s no denying that positivity sells.


But what about negativity? PSAs and negative advertising have worked for many social causes, like the ASPCA and politicians who run smear campaigns against their opponents – so don’t they work just as well?


First, examine what truly constitutes a negative ad – sometimes it’s not always so easy to discern the two. When it comes to higher education there are often two different approaches, positive and negative, to getting students enrolled. One is all about learning something new and bettering yourself, while the other focuses on unemployment and poverty. The message is all the same (“you should attend our classes” or “enroll in our program”) but the methodology used to make that message reality is different.




Psychology Strikes Again


This post from Inquiries Journal focuses heavily on politics and their campaign strategies, but again – this is marketing at its most important. The psychology used in these ads and strategies can all be crafted around the concept of higher education.


The article states this: “People naturally prefer positive people to negative ones. They naturally respond better to those who are kind than those who are not.” It also quotes a study by Dalakas, Madrigal and Anderson by saying “people prefer to experience positive emotions more than negative ones.”


This has been found to be true for most political campaigns. While flinging negativity at the other candidate may make a politician feel like they’ve then got the upper hand, spreading that negativity comes with some backlash as well. Thinking positively is something that is almost inarguable.


So now let’s look at this from the perspective of higher education. People remember those sprawling campus shots and the pride they feel when thinking that they too can better themselves – most people who aren’t high school graduates who aren’t familiar with higher education are already aware of those negative stats you may try to push.


Age In Context


On a similar note, understand that 76% of the market for higher education falls outside the parameter of high school graduates. The high school graduate market might be the easiest to snag, but the majority of your audience falls outside of that age group.


How you market to adults will be very different from how you market to teenagers – but should it still be largely positive? Yes, just positive in the right way.


Revisit the idea of a degree in the context of employment. This by itself is a concept; an abstract connection. On one hand, the idea can be darkened. “The job market is closing in on you…will you succumb to unemployment?” On the other, this same idea can be shown in a positive light. “Once I got my degree I was able to get the job of my dreams!”


See that both concepts are the same – higher education in combination with employment. However, one is obviously more sinister. Also keep in mind that this is a more adult idea than simply going to college as part of your next phase in life. Teens entering university also have jobs to think of, but the majority of your audience will be adults without qualifications looking for a degree or credits that will help them better their lives.


Positivity will take you far in advertising. We like to feel good – we don’t like to feel guilty. While negative branding and advertising may make us feel bad for a little while, positivity sticks with us…and this means it will also stick with your higher education platform marketing audience.


Looking for more ideas? Check out these tips on how you can improve your higher education marketing strategy for the New Year. 

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