When working on a marketing campaign, you may suffer the temptation to "go negative" and go on the attack against something rather than using a positive message for your point of view. We see this frequently in political campaigns, and it's occasionally effective -- but should be avoided when you have alternatives.
Case in point: recently, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) set off on an anti-Windows campaign called "Windows 7 Sins". The campaign is higly negative, and completely disregards its target audience.
It's relentlessly negative. It offers few, if any, alternatives. It doesn't consider the perspective of the "average" users who don't view software as an ethical consideration. It's like a PETA campaign, but based around software. While I may agree with some of PETA's goals, the tone and general negativity push me away -- and so does this.
The FSF has many, many positives that can be used to "sell" the concept of free software. Instead, the organization is taking the lazy approach and hoping to play off of users' frustration with Windows to lure them to free software. All well and good, except that this doesn't persuade the audience that free software is something to be desired, only that Windows is something to be avoided.
Not only is the message wrong, but it's also delivered in a ham-fisted and generally off-putting way. The site looks like something thrown together by a fringe political group. The political fringe approach is hardly going to appeal to the mainstream audience that the FSF is trying to reach. Love or hate Microsoft, it has (more often than not) been successful in persuading its audience to keep consuming its software by selling the benefits of its products.
An effective counter to this would be to look at the negatives that the FSF has identified, and craft a positive message that addresses the same issues -- but with an entirely different tone. If the organization has identified issues that users care about, it will be far more succesful if the FSF helps tell the audience how to solve their problems.
To be fair, negative messaging does work sometimes -- but on the whole, it should be avoided as much as possible. Convince your audience of your positives, and you'll have a far stronger reaction than persuading your audience that the alternatives are to be avoided.
This work by Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.