Because they work.
It’s as simple as that, really. Candidates and campaigns may start out positive and hopeful, but at some point, they and those who support them go negative. It’s an American political tradition at this point.
For a college recruiter, there are important psychological reasons negative advertising works, according to Loyola University Chicago’s Joan Phillips, who studies the phenomenon at their Quinlan School of Business – and it has direct application for how you should approach recruiting, and negativity, in recruiting:
“We pay more attention to negative information,” she says. “It’s more salient, it scares us, and we’re more likely to remember it.”
It’s the same reason why people are more likely to watch the weather when a hurricane is coming than when it’s sunny and 70 degrees outside, Phillips says.To see why negative ads work, Phillips and two colleagues developed a field study in 2004 using real TV advertisements from the George W. Bush and John Kerry presidential election. The researchers asked college students to rate their level of support for the candidates on a seven-point scale, from “definitely Bush” to “definitely Kerry” (with five points in between).
They then showed the students one of four political ads and asked them to re-rate their levels of support. Roughly 14 percent of the students said the attack on their candidate made them support him even more, the researchers found. But an equal percentage of students said the advertisement weakened their support and caused them to move closer to the opponent—the one who ran the negative ad.
Although no one jumped from “definitely Bush” to “definitely Kerry,” some students who were leaning toward one candidate did switch to the other side. And in a tightly contested race, like this year’s presidential election, getting even a few people to change their vote can make all the difference in the world.
“That’s a huge, huge gain for a candidate,” Phillips says.
So what’s the bottom line?
“We’re not saying positive ads aren’t good,” Phillips says. “It’s just that negative ads are effective.”
There’s other evidence that negative political ads work, through a variety of other interesting studies that have been done on the topic and how to combat it in a political setting.
Am I making the case that you should negative recruit against a competitor? Absolutely not. We’ve made that case in a previously published article ten years ago that has helped many coaches navigate through some challenging recruiting scenarios. Negative recruiting almost always is a short-term fix to a long term problem: It doesn’t build good trust, and actually teaches a coach to become negative about you and your program more quickly when promises aren’t met by a coach and his or her staff.
However, there are two key principles that any coach can implement – professionally and ethically – that builds on the same principles that unfortunately work so well in politics.
- Ask your prospect questions based in the negative. We’ve taught this many times to coaches over the years, and it works well. Essentially, don’t ask your teenage prospects questions that are based solely on positive ideas. Instead of, “Tell me what you want in your perfect college”, ask your prospect, “Tell me something that you know you definitely don’t want in the college you’d go to.” Instead of getting rehearsed, bland, predictable answers, you’ll get them to really think about the question, and they’ll be way more apt to tell you the truth. It works, and it’s an ethical, creative way to get inside their heads and really understand what they want.
- Define a glaring negative of your own. So many coaches open themselves up to negative recruiting by letting their competition bring up some kind of negative aspect of your program – your facility, your record, your history – and define it as a reason not to come to your school. And just like negative political ads, it works. To prevent that from happening, you should point out something you know could be viewed as a negative, and frame it in a positive way as much as possible. Or at the very least, let them hear that you aren’t scared of talking about it – and hear you say that they shouldn’t see it as a reason to not commit down the road to you and your program.
Both principles work, and both incorporate the same principles that are at play in all of the political ads that we see during election season. Negative recruiting will always be a presence in your job, but there are ways to positively incorporate it into your approach – and have it actually work in your favor as you build your program.
Want more personalized instruction when it comes to how to use psychology and advanced selling techniques in your everyday recruiting efforts? Bring us to campus to teach your staff how prospects make their decisions, what influences them, and how to build a better recruiting plan. Email Dan Tudor at email@example.com to get information.