THERE is no such thing as bad publicity, goes the adage. This is bunk. Just ask Toyota, a firm that once had a peerless reputation for reliability but spent much of last year battling allegations that its cars had defective accelerators. Or Sanlu, a Chinese company that was revealed to be peddling poisonous milk. It is now bankrupt and its top executives are in jail.
Yet if your starting point is obscurity, even bad publicity may be helpful, argues Alan Sorensen, an economics professor at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. He looked at the effect of book reviews in the New York Times. In a study published in Marketing Science*, he found that well-known authors who earned glowing reviews for a new book could expect to sell 42% more copies, whereas a negative review caused sales to drop by 15%. For unknown authors, however, it did not matter whether a book was panned or lauded. Simply being reviewed in the Times bumped up sales by a third.
Mr Sorensen extrapolated his findings to other businesses. For small brands fighting for recognition in crowded markets, almost any publicity is beneficial, he reckons. One reason is that, for lesser-known brands, negative perceptions fade more quickly in consumers' minds than their general awareness of the product. When coming across a brand whose boss is, say, a philanderer, they recognise it but don't remember why. With established brands, on the other hand, the whiff of bad publicity lingers longer.
Mr Sorenson suspects that some consumers take pleasure in exploring the ridiculed. “Borat” (pictured above) made Kazakhstan sound awful, claiming among other things that its national anthem included the couplet “Kazakhstan's prostitutes cleanest in the region/ Except of course for Turkmenistan's.” Yet the country received a fourfold increase in tourist inquiries after the film was released, observes Mr Sorenson.
There are some limits to the theory. Vitaly Borker, the founder of DecorMyEyes, an online optician, tried to generate publicity by replying abusively to dissatisfied customers, and even allegedly threatening some of them with violence. Mr Borker boasted to the New York Times that provoking masses of complaints bumped him to the top of Google searches for eyewear. His brilliant plan backfired, however: Mr Borker was arrested in December.
This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition
Long before I even got into the PR game, I’d always heard people say “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” The theory is that as long as people are talking about you, it’s a good thing. Even if they’re saying awful things about you or your company, the publicity is supposed to still be good because your name is on the top of people’s minds, keeping you relevant.
And in some cases, this is true. Just the other day, we talked about how Kanye West is the king of controversy. The hip hop superstar seems to always be on the receiving end of negative media coverage, but in his case, it’s actually served to help his career. It seems like the more negative attention he gets, the more people buy his albums. In short, he thrives on the “bad publicity.”
But Kanye is the exception, not the rule. The idea that there’s no such thing as bad publicity is laughable. It’s totally insane.
Just ask BP. Do you think they enjoyed being in the spotlight for the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf? Do you think they enjoyed having people boycott their fueling stations? Do you think they thought it was cool that there was a BP oil spill Halloween costume?
Of course they didn’t. The company took a massive hit thanks to all of the negative publicity. They’ve already spent millions trying to rebuild their image through a PPC campaign, TV commercials, and more.
And what about Toyota? How do you think all of those recalls over faulty, dangerous vehicles worked out for them? Last time I checked, their sales were down nearly 10%, and their competitors were making huge gains.
Oh, and let’s not forget about Tiger Woods. It’s been exactly one year since his scandal, and the public hasn’t viewed the athlete the same ever since. Thanks to the negative publicity, Tiger Woods lost numerous sponsors, including Accenture and AT&T. You think he enjoyed the negative media attention? You think Tiger feels there’s no such thing as bad publicity?
Somehow, I doubt it.
I could go on and on with examples of how bad publicity has hurt brands of all sizes, but I think you’re starting to get the point. The truth is there is such a thing as bad publicity. And while all of the brands I mentioned can and likely will eventually recover, the bad publicity they’ve received has done some serious damage for at least the short term and maybe longer.
What do you think? Do you believe that all publicity is good publicity? Why or why not?
This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. Download your free copy of 7 Cheap PR Tactics for Success in Any Economy here: http://www.ereleases.com/free-offer/cheap-pr-tactics/