Does a Negative Call to Action Actually Work?

by Sarah Hayes on January 27, 2016


Even if you haven't created negative calls to action, you've no doubt run across them before. They typically come in as pop-ups when you are trying to read about news or services. All you want them to do is go away, but when you find the "No Thanks" button, it actually says something like, "No, I don't want amazing savings," or "No, I'm happy with my crappy old service." That's called a negative call to action, and they are growing more numerous…but do they actually work?


The Line Between Insult and Interest

There's a reason tactics like negging remain popular in some corners of society – they really can work. But we're going to go with an older and more trustworthy rule: Never insult the customer. It doesn't matter if you think you can get more conversions by doing it – don't insult your customer. And the problem with negative calls to action is that they typically come across as insulting – hinting that you are too dumb, ignorant, or lazy to know what's good for you.

By all means make your call to action interesting – but don't turn customers off with the wrong type of language. This makes negative calls to action dangerous territory, because it's so easy to damage your brand even as you get results. Overall, it's safer to stay away, but we can see why you may want to experiment.

All About the Value Offering

Now that we've brought up the topic, let's take a look at how to make a great call to action. Are you thinking about including a few negative elements in your call? Make sure you focus on your value offering above all else. A strong call to action is:

  • Active: Good calls to action use active verbs and encourage making a decision immediately. Sign up! Find out more! Buy now! Save more! You get the idea: You want to let people know that when they click that button, they are going to get things done – or even better, you'll get things done for them.
  • Personal: A call to action should be phrased through the reader's eyes. Use "you" and "me" or "my" when writing them. This lets the reader know, even subconsciously, that they have a stake in the decision, and encourages them to pay closer attention.
  • Memorable: Here is where many calls to action turn negative – they are trying to be memorable. But you can draw attention and be memorable in many different ways. Use unique language, humor, crazy pictures, and other content that matches your business' tone. Just stay away from insults!
  • Attractive: Don't hide your buttons. Good calls to action have large, obvious buttons that are easy to read and marked with a significantly different color. Even pop-ups aren't as annoying if they are also pleasant to look at and give you an easy way to say yes or no.
  • Worthwhile: This one of the most important and yet nebulous parts of a call to action. You need to convey to the customer that signing up or saying yes is worth it. Again, this is why some companies turn negative (what happens if you don't sign up), but that isn't necessary. Include a line that describes the benefits of converting, and the succinct value offering of your brand. Your team no doubt has enough practice with elevator speeches to come up with a polite way to tell people this is an opportunity of a lifetime.

What call to actions have worked well for you? We would love to shake hands online and hear your experience! 

About Us 21 Handshake


Sarah Hayes

Project Manager at 21 Handshake, a strategic marketing company, driven to grow relationship-driven businesses. A self described life long learner that thrives on detail, I love bringing these skills to the table to help others succeed.

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