Digital content needs to be positive to portray your brand in the best light possible, right? Not necessarily. Brutal, cold, heart-stopping negativity could be the missing link that your content needs.
[Image credit: British Heart Foundation]
It wasn't the guy in the business suit and heels getting excited about insurance, nor was it the bizarrely popular meerkats, but a depiction of two sisters getting ready for a wedding day. One was the bride, the other her excited bridesmaid, who was suddenly lying on the floor in a heap.
At first, I assumed she'd tripped over and was about to make an injury claim or that her dress had been too long, causing her to fall over, but there wasn't a problem as same-day delivery was available from a convenient online retailer. But I was wrong.
She was dead.
The ad was from the British Heart Foundation (BHF), with the scene followed by a blunt explanation that the bridesmaid had died, before her mid-30s, at her sister's wedding, because no one around her knew CPR.
I think my first reaction was to laugh in disbelief at the brutality of it, before carrying on watching Corrie.
Then, at work a few days later, I was busy typing away when the news appeared to start on the radio. But rather than the usual headlines, a voice told me that I might think the news was starting or that I was about to receive a travel bulletin that would give me an idea of my ETA at my destination, but I wouldn't be arriving, because my heart was about to stop and I would be dead. BHF had struck again.
My colleagues who'd heard it began to laugh at the brutality of it, in the same way I had when watching TV a few days earlier. I told them about the ad I'd seen and Googled if there were any more installments to this horrific campaign.
What I found were some of the best examples of using negative content to get an audience to complete a call to action I've ever seen.
How negative can be positive
So often, our clients who receive news stories don't want us to cover anything negative in their industry. For example, finance clients don't want to talk about the market dipping and supply chain clients don't want us to mention the fact that modern slavery is still an issue. These clients may offer the perfect solution to looking after your stocks or eliminating illegal workers from a supply chain, but they could be missing out on traffic by pretending that worst-case scenarios don't happen.
After what I saw from BHF, it seems that negative content can be even more powerful than positive content. Tapping into people's fears and worst nightmare scenarios could be a great way to get them to sit up and listen to what you have to say.
The 'Unexpected' campaign
The first place my research into the brutal campaign took me was Twitter, where I saw this Tweet pinned to the BHF's timeline:
I pressed the 'like' button and received this message:
Again, my first thought was 'why so brutal, AGAIN?'. But it was working. I needed to know more and I couldn't get it out of my head.
Some quick research showed me that 90 per cent of people who press the 'like' button in response to the Tweet receive the same message I did. This is because nine in ten people don't know how to perform CPR, meaning those would be your real chances of survival if your heart was to suddenly stop while browsing Twitter.
A brief look at replies to the Tweet shows that responses range from 'It's nasty, unpleasant and unnecessary' to 'Great campaign, great way to raise awareness!'. Even for those who are appalled by the clever use of an auto-response Tweet, it got them talking and interacting with the brand, which in turn will have raised awareness of the message behind the campaign among their own channels.
I also came across these examples:
In the latter, the BHF collaborated with The Sun newspaper for a day, responding in real-time to headlines, explaining how the outcome of particular news stories could have been so different if someone's heart had stopped.
I was appalled, impressed at the charity's nerve and desperately wishing I knew CPR in equal measure.
So, what made this campaign work?
Its brutality was certainly a key factor. Hard-hitting, straight to the point and leaving you wanting to know more, the conciseness of the campaign messages are a great example of how using brief copy can be equally as effective as long-form content when positioned in the right way.
With a presence across both online and offline forms, encompassing social media, newspapers, TV adverts, ads on public transport and radio, the charity has effectively used just a few words but made sure they can't be escaped from.
This highlights the importance of having a varied strategy that makes the most of different forms of content and how spreading your message can help improve engagement.
Stopping hearts with a brutal negativity that makes people sit up and listen might just be the missing link that your content needs. If you're worried about doing this in a sensitive way, the BHF clearly wasn't, so take heed from the experts and just make sure your audience can easily find out more.
So, what's next for the BHF? In a further - arguably equally - brutal move, the charity is encouraging people to give up chocolate and 'dechox' during March to raise money for vital research.