Is the no negative language rule a double negative?

Not3 I am blaming it on The Secret.  In the last month, we have had two different clients ask us to go back and revise something we’d created a while ago and they’d already been using because it contained "negative language." 

One even referenced the book and the Law of Attraction.   

Now don’t get me wrong…I’m all for the law of attraction. I agree with it.  But I also think its more of a concept than an absolute. 

Then, the topic came up yesterday in yet another client meeting on a current project.  So this has been on my mind quite a bit lately.

As a writer, I strongly believe that sometimes it is more powerful to speak in the negative.  Maybe I’m wrong.  Let me share with you my thoughts and then I’d like to listen to yours.

Words like never, don’t or won’t can be potent triggers. They can connote a depth of conviction, in my opinion.  I like to use them as a contrast.  To give the copy a twist or really pound home a point without pulling out the hammer.

Not2 "We’ll never charge you for the same repair twice" is a more powerful statement than the same concept written in the positive.

We don’t do bankers hours feels stronger than we have evening hours or we’re open until 7. 

Our viscosity standards will never be compromised is pretty tough to state in a positive way with as much conviction.

Or am I wrong?  I’d love to hear your thoughts about using negative language in copy and taglines.

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14 comments on “Is the no negative language rule a double negative?

  1. CK says:

    Agreed–I use the negative a lot in my writng (and I’m a positive gal). It’s been proven…somewhere…that the same goes for news headlines. For example:
    “Your child interacts with a killer everyday” does better than “Are you child’s lunches healthy?”

    Both were headlines for salmonella in school cafeterias and how it’s on the rise.

    As for the Law of Attraction, I agree with it but agree with your take on it. That darn Secret!

    P.S.: I was able to post that pic of my Mickey Ears again today (as the post allowed it) and it brought back such fine memories. I want to thank you again for that fun promo. Meant and still means so much to me.

  2. Rush Nigut says:

    I agree, Drew. For example, there is a reason so many negative political ads are used. They work far better and are more memorable than the positive ads everyone says they want to see.


  3. Sometimes negative statements don’t address the “WHY?”. If we can apply logic, reason, and emotion…it will help defray the negative.

    Applying negative can indicate authority and wisdom in conjunction with contextual background and recommendations.

    It just comes down to a matter of reframing the perspective. If that isn’t done effectively, we should reexamine the message to improve its stickiness.

  4. Sometimes, the most effective way to make a point is by contrast, and that is where a “promotional negation” (is that a term?) can be most effective. I wouldn’t not never try to use a triple negative, however!

  5. Connie Reece says:

    Drew, I could not agree with you more. . .and that “not” sounds stronger to me than if I’d said I agree with you 100 percent.

    The principle of being positive in outlook and speech is just that — a principle. Using “negative” words does not negate the principle; in some cases it reinforces it. “We don’t keep bankers’ hours” expresses a positive: we stay open longer hours to provide better service to our customers.

  6. Jane Greer says:

    Don’t get me started on “The Secret”–my brain will explode!

    Moving on: I once worked for a guy who demanded that everyone be “positive” (he pronounced it “possitiff”) around him. When he greeted you in the morning with, “How’s it goin’?” the only acceptable answer was, “Great!” Obviously, he was not the guy we went to when there was bad news or we had problems or issues. Did that make him a better manager? Hell no.

    NEVER SAY NEVER about anything having to do with language. Words aren’t magical spells or “attractors.” They’re tools. Period. Sometimes they’re the right tool for the job, and sometimes they aren’t. We can’t communicate clearly without sometimes using a form of the very clear, very helpful word “not.” That we should even need to have such a discussion is proof that some people’s brains have leaked out of their little skills, Law of Attraction or not! 🙂

  7. Jane Greer says:

    Oops–that should be “skulls,” not “skills.” I guess the Universe is punishing me for my negativity.

  8. Howie says:

    I agree. There are some statements when stated with a negative enforcement will give a better meaning or easy understanding. Some could be stated only in a negative way and I don’t think that it’s going to make it more negative,

  9. Larry Lehmer says:

    You can add me to the chorus of ayes, Drew. Believe it or not, there was once a high-ranking newsroom official at a high-circulation daily newspaper in Iowa who once banned editors from using “not” or “no” (it may have been both; I can— remember) in headlines. You can imagine the mental gymnastics that one engaged in to meet that impossible and ill-advised standard.

  10. Charlie says:

    There is nothing wrong with stating things negatively, as long as it is stated in a good way. It’s certainly hard to make a sad statement without using negative language.

  11. I appreciate all of you chiming in on this. Your comments validate my instincts and years of writing experience. To me, there is a very distinct difference between being negative and using negative “space” to accent the positive.

    Any thoughts on how I can help my clients understand this?


  12. Hi Drew,

    I’m also a fan of The Secret and Law of Attraction.

    I agree that we must always use positive language anytime anywhere, especially for marketing or advertisement. The reason is that our brain can only understand positive language. Not having the positive language can convey the wrong message to subconscious minds.

    I actually knew about visualization from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich and Sandy McGregor’s Piece of Mind but I never believed and practiced it until I watch The Secret.

    By the way, I’ve found out an audio that helps me visualizing easier 🙂

    This audio is surely fantastic and it comes with 365-day money back guarantee. Plus you get a free report. You must give it a try at

  13. Judy Dunn says:

    I agree with Aldrian on this one. In my studies for my Master’s degree in Education, I learned that the unconscious mind tends to dismiss negative words like “don’t” and “no” as it receives information. By inserting “not” into a message, researchers found that you make it difficult for the human brain to visualize and process the message.

    For instance, “Don’t kick the dog.” I can’t get a picture of that.

    But “Pet the dog,” “Feed the dog.” I can see that.

    Another example (true story): A sign on a farm said, “Please do not feed the horses.”

    After the sign went up, the farmer noticed that even more people were feeding the horses.

    He changed the sign to, “We eat only apples and carrots” and, sure enough, fewer people fed the horses.

    This is a fascinating topic. Thanks for introducing it.

  14. Judy,

    I hadn’t heard the horse story before — thanks for sharing it! How did you go from a Master’s in education to the world of marketing?


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