Push Negative Words Further Away From Products

Products inherit the associations of nearby words.

The words "sunscreen prevents cancer" with cancer being pushed further away from sunscreen


Read this sentence:

  • Sunscreen prevents cancer

Consciously, you think sunscreen is good.

But subconsciously, two concepts — sunscreen and cancer — become activated in your brain. Would these competing images distort your perception of the sunscreen?

A new study tested this question (Béna, Mauclet, & Corneille, 2023).

Researchers paired fake products (e.g., Shimeron) with various consequences (e.g., skin rash). Even when participants were told that these products were preventing those harmful outcomes, they still showed weaker attitudes. Participants weren't fully separating the products from the harmful consequences they were supposed to prevent.

So, what can you do?

Bold Prevention Verbs


  • Sunscreen prevents cancer

Bolding does two things:

  1. It reinforces the preventative meaning.
  2. It inserts a visual element between the product and negative trait. Readers will visually separate the product and consequence into different groups, which should make them seem conceptually different. I've called it divergent processing in the past.

Describe Prevention With Humor

You need positive emotions to counterbalance any negative imagery.

Use Positive Frames

Positive framing is more persuasive:

  • Negative: ...won't damage skin.
  • Positive: ...soft and gentle on skin.

  • Béna, J., Mauclet, A., & Corneille, O. (2023). Does co-occurrence information influence evaluations beyond relational meaning? An investigation using self-reported... Journal of experimental psychology. General, 152(4), 968–992.