Running away or chasing? What are you selling?

Published on Aug 21, 2015

by Dr. Duck

As a naïve, young researcher, I walked into an advertising agency hopeful that they would be excited to sponsor my research. Of course, I was dealing with the ultimate salespeople and there was no chance I would be able to match their ability to pitch and influence.

The research looked at whether we could tailor advertisements to be more credible if they aligned with the regulatory focus of people. People are…

…wait a minute. Let me sell it to you like the ad man…

Some ads are made to make you feel insecure, like deodorant commercials. Other ads are flogging you a dream or idea to make you feel happy.

The first lot of ads correspond to a prevention focus. When individuals are concerned about their prevention needs, they are especially worried or concerned with fulfilling their social obligations. Or, as the ad man would say, they’re worried they’ll smell.

The second lot of ads are related to a promotion focus, which is a fixation on ideals and aspirations. The ad man would refer to that luxury car you dream about or the holiday cruise.

How you position yourself or your organisation may very well hinge on whether your audience are promotion or prevention focussed.

Say your customer is after some innovative, blue sky ideas. You may feel the need to provide these ideas but also back up the idea with assurance of risk management and fact checking.

Interestingly, research suggests that combining more abstract and creative messaging (promotion) with vigilant messaging (prevention) affects your overall credibility. That is, people instinctively reject the message.

Organisations that develop visions and missions often try to integrate lots of ideas in one, simple message. Their efforts are admirable. They are aiming to cover everything that they do in one message.

However, often these messages end up getting tangled and ultimately become fairly meaningless. For example, depicting some future utopia may inspire the audience up until you bombard them with messages about fixing immediate issues. Suddenly, that inspirational message gets caught up in the here and now.

The opposite can also be true. If your customers associate your brand with prevention, then you may alienate these customers by highlighting the aspirational aims of the organisation.

Do you exist to make your customer feel secure or to help them realise their ideas?

It isn’t all about the organisation. You also have your own brand. Do people come to you because you come up with the ideas or do they rely on you as the diligent finisher who dots all their ‘i’s and crosses all the ‘t’s?

If you are a working in a role where prevention is a key consideration, then you may find that your ideas are perceived as less important than your ability to provide your internal customers with confidence. If your role is about dreaming big, people may find your preoccupation with protocols to be a drawback.

Perhaps this is why the ad man rejected my pitch. Maybe my research and delivery felt too mechanical and diligent. The message was not enough luxury vehicle and too much bad body odour.

Here are examples of vision statements that align with either a prevention or promotion focus.


Prevention Messages

World Vision

Our mission is to be a Christian organisation that engages people to eliminate poverty and its causes.

Obesity Society

Better understand, prevent and treat obesity to improve the lives of those affected through research, education and advocacy.


To prevent cruelty to animals by actively promoting their care and protection.

Promotion Messages

Coca Cola

To refresh the world…To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…To create value and make a difference.


Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.


At eBay, our mission is to provide a global online marketplace where practically anyone can trade practically anything, enabling economic opportunity around the world

by Dr. Duck

My name is Nicholas Duck. I am a Doctor of Psychology with an interest in psychology in the workplace, film and television, the media, and the fields of emotion, unconscious, and motivation psychology. You can contact me at

I am founder and principal consultant at Opposite, a consultancy that takes these applied psychological findings and helps workplaces improve.

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