We take great care in pairing the right words with the right images here at 37signals. Jason Fried writes and rewrites headlines and body copy over and over again to ensure that we’re communicating the right message.

I have a theory about online advertising. I’m not sure if I’m on to something, but I wanted to share it with you to hear what you think. Here goes:

The Subliminal Negativity Theory

News is depressing. There are crises, wars, bailouts, failures. These news sources need advertising to keep reporting the news. It has been that way for ages. The revolution of advertising online (as demonstrated by Google) has been to serve relevant and contextual ads. These ads are related to the content we’re interested in.

However, many of the ads on news sites are displayed inline with negative and scary headlines. Do people viewing these ads pick-up on the negative mojo? Do the advertisers get some negativity rubbed off on them? Like I said, at 37signals we take great care in pairing words and images on the screen. We would never want to associate our products with negative words.

My theory is that the advertisers on these news sites do pick up on some of the negativity in the headlines. There’s got to be some subliminal association at work. Here are some screens from various news sites around the web.

The New York Times

The Wall Street Journal



Fox News

So what do you think? I’d love to hear thoughts or contrary theories in the comments.