Q: How can brands land difficult messages consumers don’t want to hear?

A: By applying principles from psychotherapy, brands can ensure message acceptance


The challenge

Sometimes we just have to accept messages we don’t want to hear. Health issues like smoking cessation, denture wearing and managing chronic conditions can involve difficult messaging individuals may not want to engage with. Similarly debt management can involve hard truths with individuals preferring to bury their heads in the sand.


In communication development, we regularly observe 3 types of response to difficult messages


1. Message integrators

  • Some audiences are more likely to accept difficult messages
  • They adopt a balanced, mature approach
  • They’re more likely to internalise and integrate information
  • They’re more able to cope with unsettling news
  • Though messages can still be challenged – so they still have a need for tangible evidence to back-up messaging

2. Knee jerk rejectors

  • Other audiences are more likely to immediately reject out of hand
  • They’re initially unable to integrate the message so don’t cope with the vulnerability it evokes
  • Though they are capable of self soothing over time with sufficient facts, authority and reassurance

3. Message swallowers

  • This last group remain unmotivated & unlikely to act
  • They simply swallow the message whole without real consideration of what it means
  • So they don’t really internalise it
  • There is, however, potential to help them engage and to give the message more traction by presenting them with experiences they recognise from their lives


Some simple principles from psychotherapy can help ensure message acceptance

  • Be honest: Don’t sugar coat a message (or risk losing credibility)
  • Show individuals they are not alone: Developing the sense that others also face the same issues helps overcome ‘shame’, feels empowering, normalising & supportive, and helps breed hope for a solution
  • Scare tactics demotivate and risk rejection: Give an honest representation, but show hope / and realistic solutions / ideally show a positive outcome
  • Include believable, immediate experiences: Experiences that individuals recognise as real and truthful
  • Be factual, and logical
  • Draw on authority: where / if possible
  • Recognise that difficult messages can need time to process & reconcile