Negative? Or telling it like it is?

Most of us will say we don’t like negative ads. We’re turned off by a political spot featuring a menacing voice, doomsday music and dark images. But they turn up every couple of years, and as much as we complain, they run for one reason: they work.

Chances are, this is the thinking behind a recent campaign to attract young professionals to Wisconsin from Chicago by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC). Though it’s not cut from the same scare tactic cloth as those political ads, the campaign, created by Nelson Schmidt, attracted the attention of the business section of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel because of some criticism in the ad world about its negative tone.

So, why not tout the reasons to come to Wisconsin, rather than point out the reasons to leave Chicago? Here at TRG Marketing, we had our own little internal discussion. It went something like this:

Mike Shefky:
Before I pull the rug out, let me first say that I think one definitive positive that came from this campaign is that it is generating conversation – which by itself shines light on the state of Wisconsin as a potential place for employment. Having conversations about these topics and seeing the arguments presented, is inherently a good thing.

Aileen Smith:
Agree, Mike. I understand the campaign is finding some success in attracting young talent to Wisconsin…which is the goal. I didn’t see this as negative until someone pointed to it as such. Frankly, I still don’t see it in that light, but more as the statement of truths. Shorter commutes, lower housing prices, more accessible outdoor activities. Can’t argue with those points. How is that negative?

Mike Shefky:
Well, there are those that say direct A to B comparisons, as presented in the ads, are the perceived “problem” and make our state look petty. They’d say we can trumpet our benefits individually. And some folks have argued that these types of ads will inherently backfire by making those living in Illinois feel under attack and actually LESS likely to move to Wisconsin.

Aileen Smith:
But is that just the nature of the little guy going up against the big guy, to point to the strong points of the “lesser” entity? It’s a fact that Chicago has more to offer in terms of business opportunities, by its mere size, so in order to compete you have to look at specifics on the plus side. I can point to my own experience as an Illinois ex-pat: my husband and I saw the very advantages this campaign is pointing out, and made the decision to move. The arguments in the campaign stand.

Mike Shefky:
And I agree with you. My point of consternation is NOT with the negativity of the ads; my objection comes with the projected $7 million that may be spent to woo out-of-state workers. I’d rather see us focus on keeping our own in-state talent. How can we get the best and brightest UW system grads (both in and out-of-state natives) to stay in our cities to work? I’ve talked with several business leaders in the area, and for them talent migration is the real threat. It reminds me of Barry Alvarez saying that for the Badger football program to be successful, the first priority is building a wall around the in-state talent before branching out to recruit in other areas.

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