The Lasting Power of the Positive

Will Newman

I’m sick of it!

Negative. Negative. Negative.

I’m talking about today’s current political climate. Regardless of party. Regardless of candidate.

I’m sick of the negativity. Know what I’m going to do? I’m going to stop paying attention.

Yes, you’ll hear over and over that in the news, if it bleeds, it leads. Or in copywriting that fear and greed sells.

That may be true … until your reader’s attention fades because, like me, he’s sick of it.

For a change of pace, look to the positive.

I’m going to offer you two outstanding examples of how being positive can motivate your reader every bit as much — NO! Make that more — as being negative. These two examples are all the more impressive because the subjects are dismal: homeless teens and disease.

Kimberley Seville wrote the first example as a fundraising letter for Covenant House (sheltering agency for homeless youth). She tells us about Kelly, a teenage girl who shows up at Covenant House one cold evening. She’s shivering, hungry, and has no place to go. Kimberley — in the voice of Sister Cruse — tells us Kelly’s life “is a bleak story, indeed.”

Kimberley doesn’t let the story wallow in bleakness. Sister Cruz feeds Kelly. Finds her warm clothing. And gives the child hope. Kimberley’s positive approach also gives the prospective donor hope — hope that helps convert the reader from prospect to donor.

Positive, uplifting … even though this could have been very depressing.

Birthday balloons and an unforgettable message

My second example is something I saw on television several years ago doing a training event hosted by AWAI.

Let me start by asking you: Of all the diseases facing us today, which is potentially the bleakest, the most negative? That distinction goes to cancer.

One evening, Linda and I settled down to catch a movie on the Hallmark Channel before turning in. Midway through the movie, I saw an ad from the American Cancer Society that brought tears to my eyes. Not because it was sad, but because it was so positive.

The ad showed birthday celebrations — lots of them. Old people, middle aged people, young people celebrating birthdays. Then it showed a gaggle of kids running into a house to join a birthday party.

No statistics about how many children contract cancer. Or how many die. Not even a word about how many survive. Instead, this simple line …

“What we need are more birthdays.”

The power of a positive story.

Thank you for joining me and Mindy this week. We’ve had fun writing to you, and I hope you’ve taken away some tidbits to help you along your journey to the writer’s life.

I’ll be back next week, sharing some time with B2B master Steve Slaunwhite. I look forward to seeing you.

Until then, I’d love to hear what you think about the power of positive stories … or about anything we’ve discussed this week. Let us know in the comments below.

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Published: March 4, 2016

19 Responses to “The Lasting Power of the Positive”

  1. Like the article Will. It's nice to know, coming from England, that US politics are in a mess...surely not Mr Trump. As I'm sure you are well aware, ours are bordering on a disaster.
    Certainly curious as to what B2N is.
    I know cancer seems to be higher in the Western world and in England we are noticing many bad health conditions coming back, that were extinct, due to immigration.
    That's why it's great to hear of a positive story.
    Look forward to your next article.

    upmarketMarch 4, 2016 at 1:08 pm

  2. This piece resonated with me, not just for its initial sentiment (with which I agree and am doing the same!), but because I very much agree with the need for positive ways to present issues, stories and calls to action. Thank you Will Newman.

    Guest (Robin Baum)March 4, 2016 at 1:37 pm

  3. Well done! Good, encouraging article! I needed it today. Our words have power. The more positive, the better.

    Guest (Maria M A )March 4, 2016 at 1:38 pm

  4. Cancer is not the worst. Poverty is cyclical. Your endeavors are laughable at best. Cheers to laugh ability!

    Guest (Melissa Bruketta )March 4, 2016 at 1:46 pm

  5. Thank you for you gentle and positive message. Makes every bit of sense and demonstrate that a change in attitude of perceiving the good things of living is the best pratice to turn the tide, even when we have bad times / feelings.
    Nice to meet you.
    May I share something to enlight your day?
    I like to tell stories. Photos. This is my imagination in action. Percieving. Mutating.
    Take a peek. www dot viewbug dot com / member / TravelerSandro Thank you a million!

    Guest (Traveler Sandro)March 4, 2016 at 2:05 pm

  6. Mr. Newman my grandfather Ken MacDonald was a hunt and peck commercial writer that won an industrie award for a how to value and rate sleeping bags. How to diverentiate material, construction, design equating to 32* 0* -20* based on info. I gave him being exposed to the outdoor industry. None the less you remind me of him. It is this familial connection that keeps me coming back to AWAI. My creative artistic and philosophical nature has always been overcome by pragmatic need. I'm truely attempting to continue listening. Thnx All!

    Guest (N S Shoemaker)March 4, 2016 at 3:45 pm

  7. Thanks for this, Will.

    Your article reminded me of something that happened years ago. I worked on a weekly TV magazine show, producing segments along with five other reporter-writers. One evening when the hosts of the show were introducing my segment, one of them said, "And now here's something from our resident optimist..." He said it a somewhat joking manner, as though it made my contribution less impactful. My first thought was "Well, consider the alternative."

    I have often been accused of optimism. At those times, I am reminded of a little sign I had posted on my desk at work; it was something attributed to Sir Edward Shackleton:

    "Optimism is true moral courage."

    Thank you for good work, and your courage, Will.

    Guest (BB66copy66BB)March 4, 2016 at 4:37 pm

  8. We get so much negativity from our news that we marketers should learn to avoid it. My guess is that a lot of marketing I read has a combination of negative and positive messages.

    Apparently, arousing fear, through negativity, is a step in gaining a prospect's attention. Then, we are supposed to counter with positive benefits from our products/services.

    Maybe some are forgetting to move to the positive.

    Your article reminds us of marketing reality.

    RayWinMarch 4, 2016 at 5:36 pm

  9. Will.
    There will always be bad things that happen and negative news (one of the reason I usually only watch tv if someone has it on as I pass by) but I try to remember to be Thankful and Grateful in the "everyday" things.
    So... I am Thankful that you take the time to write inspiring messages and I am ever so Grateful to God to be alive to read them.
    Keep Blessing the World, Shine on...

    WriterBrentMarch 4, 2016 at 6:32 pm

  10. To paraphrase Pirandello, "Right you are, whether you think you are or not."

    Politicians and news media personalities (not real journalists) have become cynical, not just negative. They DO NOT represent the real world.

    In the real world there are stories of conflicts and pain. BUT there are more stories of people helping people, of scientific advances to better our lives, of leaders - even political leaders - taking actions for the betterment of their communities, countries, and the planet.

    Jerry WaxmanMarch 5, 2016 at 3:18 am

  11. Mr. Trump's PAY OFF for the presidency will be to say, "I'm taking your job!" Frankly, after the brief dominant feelings of WINNING the highest office in OUR nation and the world wear off, can one truly imagine this guy showing up for WORK, EVERY DAY?

    Guest (PMBuice)March 5, 2016 at 9:01 am

  12. Excellent post! It has inspired me to strive for a positive tone in my copy. I will try avoiding using greed or any negative emotions. Thanks!

    Guest (Benny Luong)March 5, 2016 at 10:02 am

  13. I was pleased to see your article on positive advertising. In my past experience, negative advertising never got the good response that positive ads did. I guess fear could be a subconscious motivator but usually just turns people away. I learned to always use positive motivation in order to get people to take action.

    Thanks for bringing this to,the table.

    Guest (Catherine)March 5, 2016 at 11:45 am

  14. Years ago, our agency (Brunnings Liverpool) was asked to pitch to the World Wildlife Fund. While the other creative teams developed hand-wringing images of dead animals, I understood that the real job was not to elicit tears, but to sell the WWF catalogue and solicit sales. So instead of a catalogue, I called it 'The Book That Saves Lives'. I made it a call to action with the line: 'Send Now For The Book That Saves Lives'. We won the pitch, and the WWF ran that line for years. Positivity pays!

    [FROM WILL: Great approach! I've often felt that Smile Train could get a better response by showing children *after* cleft palate/cleft lip surgery than the images from before the surgery.]

    Guest (David Anderson)March 5, 2016 at 12:45 pm

  15. Thank you for the assurance of using the positive! I am a hopeful newbie working to become a B2B writer. Surely the positive is what will need to be emphasized. Supporting your article: On Linkedin conversations I am seeing multiple "Likes" on the positive entries.

    Guest (Vickie Horn)March 8, 2016 at 12:39 am


    Guest (Abilene Gray)March 8, 2016 at 9:07 am

  17. Whenever someone bombards me with streamlined negativity I counter with: "Anything positive to offer?" Like, e.g., if someone's clobbering my assertion that our current sitting president is great, rather than fight, I ask for the person to submit his/her choices.

    A no response politely -- and more effectively -- accomplishes an "STFU." And responses generally expose that NOBODY's perfect and that presidents are flawed; but that positive spins are always more productive than negative dormancies.

    Guest (Chris Morris)March 8, 2016 at 9:59 am

  18. Reading positive stories or seeing positive outcomes has kept me going for the almost50 yrs of my life. I have become skeptical of some stories if I did not see it happen in real time; however, I trod on. Thinking positive has often been the only driver I had to keep me moving forward.

    Guest (Roy J Inhulsen)March 20, 2016 at 5:12 am

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