Adverse Marketing - Why it's bad for your wellbeing.
And not just the big tech giants' fault.
You may have read hundreds of articles that remind you that what you consume in the media has an effect on your wellbeing. Whether it is the blue light from the screen melting your brain or one of the Kardashians making you believe your body is less than worthy, there is always something that requires you to take stock of your thoughts and feelings. If you are a person who is super aware of all of these things, and many are not, then you are one of the lucky ones. If you are able to recognise it, manage it and allow yourself to enjoy all forms of media without it having a detrimental effect on your health then you are like gold dust.
It is easy to look at the news and especially the trending topics that navigate towards the media giants who stand to gain from such programs and online hangouts and firmly point a finger at them to blame. There are many opinions as to whether these companies should be regulated in the pursuit of ensuring that we are not being “fed” more adverse and disturbing media content. This article isn’t about that. This is about the fact that yes, there is a discussion about that happening right now (one I have many opinions about but will not share here) that is extremely valuable to us as a society. The markers of our mental health should be protected at all costs! But the root of the problem stems deeper. It stems further and the reason that there has been something that is bad for our wellbeing there to focus on to improve an algorithm root is actually to do with our own default psychology.
If you have heard about the uproar of opinion in terms of the conversation happening that surrounds us about media and the negative effects then you will have heard that it is being targeted to elicit a response from us. It is easy to elicit a response if you understand how our brains and consumption of information works. The one thing we have always known is that people respond to negative bias.
What is negative bias? Negative bias put simply is the way your brain (and mine) has been wired. It receives signals from negative sources more strongly. That’s why an upset or argument can linger in your system for so much longer than a moment of Joy when left to our default setting. If you have ever even scratched the surface of psychology you will know that all of our default settings are pretty much targeted towards one thing – not dying. This means that our primal brain has not yet been able to figure out a new world threat vs the old school threat. Brain is looking for harm all the time in an attempt to help us. But brain looking for negative bias consistently is actually feeding brain slow poison which ultimately still leads to harm. It may be slower, it may even go undetected for a long time, but the lasting effects are just as harmful as the intended threat that brain is trying (and failing) to protect us from.
Whether you have recognised it or not negative bias is being used in media and marketing all around us, all of the time. There are very subtle messages that will remind you that if you do not have that product you won’t be good, or worthy or as special as the person on the screen advertising. Some of this is a by product of general advertising, and although it isn’t great the intention is not to harm, but to elevate the the greatness of the product being sold. This kind of marketing is going to happen forever and we are already finding ways to bring in more positive messaging and inclusive advertising to balance and perhaps even tip the whole thing back in wellbeing favour!
The thing about negative bias though is that the reason it is in marketing, in the articles you read, the reels you watch and in the middle of your aunt Joyce’s conversation about her noisy neighbours is because it is in us as humans. Just like a social algorithm we to have discovered that we can gain more undeniable attention from negative sources. You don’t have to go far to recognise this is a well established human behaviour, in fact speak to any parent of a toddler and they will tell you that just like there is not such thing as “bad PR” there is no such thing as “negative attention”. Sometimes to us humans, it just looks like attention.
Adverse response is a marketing tactic and its used by those who consciously abuse it’s power and those who do not even realise consciously that they subtly recognised and repeated behaviour based on the treat and retreat triggers in our brain. Posted a video that slammed someone else and got a lot of likes? Good human, here’s some dopamine as a reward. This is also how dogs are trained FYI.
If you were ever wondering why bullies and trolls exist, this is it.
The thing about adverse marketing and the response it triggers is that it can sometimes be really good for disqualifying potential followers, non ideal clients etc from the crowd but there is a way for people on the online space to be able to qualify leads, followers, friends, fans etc without reverting to the intentional depths of adverse technique.
So all this being said, how can we – the user, the human the small end point to all these things make a difference in the online space?
Well, reading this article was a very good start, Well done you! Beyond this point I think what we need to do is simply recognise negative bias, know the power of it, understand what it feels like for you when you are triggered by it and then intervene.
This could look like:
– Responding to positive messages online only
– Ignoring adverse content, even if you have a feeling about it – remember this is not you denying your outrage, anger or disagreement, its about showing tech platforms who would wish to show you more that you are not going to subscribe to their negative bias agenda.
– Cultivating messages you see on all forms of media, only giving responses to those that support your feelings for joy and gratitude.
– Recognise within yourself why you respond to people who have a strong negative bias within their conduct or behaviour (do you align yourself with bullies to ensure you are never bullied?)
– Refuse to buy in to negative bias by not putting out comments, content or media that include adverse marketing, that call people out or that take a stance of pride, importance with a side of Judgement.
– Or if you absolutely cannot share information without the above, counter it with a balanced review of your feelings in the opposite stance.
Perhaps if we stopped responding strongly to all the negative bias we could cultivate what we are served.
Lead with love and kindness where ever you can – you absolutely have the power to support the thoughts and feelings that come with this consumption and you have the right and the power to change the narrative that is being fed to you.
You are what you eat has never been so poignant as it is today. When it comes to media – let’s keep it sweet.