Hostile Communication

The inspiration for this project came from observing years of campaigns where Coca Cola mocked Pepsi, Apple mocked Microsoft, and a political challenger mocked the incumbent (and, in each case, vice versa).

I wanted to know: why do two rational and adult individuals (or organizations fronted by such individuals) decide on the seemingly irrational tactic of mocking one another during negotiations and campaigning? The stakes are massive; the term "low blow" didn't arise out of nowhere. An inelegant attack on someone else not only fails to attract new people to your cause or product, but it may even drive away the people who were on your side until that point. Yet, presidential candidates and multi-million dollar conglomerates are perennially engaged in this game of high risk and questionable rewards.

I applied for the StockWell Communications Polis Research Prize, a competition jointly conducted by StockWell Communications, a leading strategic consultancy in the UK, and Polis, a media think-tank at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). My proposal was titled The Power of Low Blows: When Attacking Communication Works and can be read in full here

The jury awarded me the first prize, which entailed a £1000 reward (approx. $1500) and a research internship in StockWell Communications' London office. Over the course of four months, I read through academic literature and journalistic articles, sketched out case studies, and interviewed people on either side of the counter (client and adviser) to understand the rationale behind this behavior. Utilising lessons from behavioral science, with my research I tried to reveal the cognitive aspects of these emotional appeals.

I am authoring a report, featuring my discoveries, to be published by StockWell later this year. This page shall be updated once the report is publicly available.