When is bad press actually good press?
When your core customers (and potential customers) won’t be offended or turned-off by the nature of the negative press.
Take http://www.beautifulpeople.com/. The dating website is set up in such a way that only people voted to be “beautiful” by other members are allowed to buy memberships. Elitist? Absolutely, and they are proud of it. Last week, the website kicked over 5,000 members out because of weight gain over the holiday season. Those given the boot were also e-mailed a list of weight loss boot camps in their area.
The move instantly set off a firestorm in the media, so much so that when you do a Google search of “beautifulpeople.com”, the site itself is no longer the first hit. News stories about the site lead the way. It seems like every major news outlet in the world covered the story. Message boards and blogs were alive with people angry at the site’s actions.
How did all that negative press impact beautifulpeople.com?
Traffic to their website is up 660% in the past 7 days, and overnight the site became one of the 1000 most-visited websites in the world.
Let’s be honest… those who were offended by beautifulpeople.com’s actions were probably never likely to sign up for an account at an elitist vanity-driven dating site like that.
Madonna experienced first-hand how negative press can be a positive, as long as your fans don’t mind the controversy. Her 1989 video for “Like A Prayer” featured burning crosses, stigmata, and what some interpreted as Jesus Christ played by black actor Leon Robinson. The video angered Catholics for its religious imagery and was banned in several countries. In the end, “Like A Prayer” went on to win the Viewer’s Choice Award at the MTV Video Awards and was later named one of music’s most groundbreaking videos by Rolling Stone, MTV, and VH-1.
Elvis set off similar insanity in 1956 when he appeared on the Milton Berle Show singing “Hound Dog” while suggestively gyrating his hips. What happened when all that controversy broke out? Elvis became a worldwide sensation. Although Ed Sullivan made sure those suggestive hips stayed off-camera!
What happened to the career of The Beatles in 1966 when John Lennon declared that they were “more popular than Jesus”? They got even more popular! Sure, they took some short term heat, but their next album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, went 11x platinum. Two years later, the “White Album” went 19x platinum. They sold more albums in the two years after that comment than their entire career before it.
Keith Moon’s quirky passion for blowing up toilets didn’t hurt The Who. In fact, being banned from all Holiday Inn, Sheraton, and Hilton hotels worldwide actually fueled The Who’s reputation for being the loudest rock and roll band on earth… a reputation that outlived Keith himself.
Vince Neil of Motley Crue even killed a man while driving drunk. You’d think that would hurt the band, but once Vince got out of jail, the band’s career continued on track like nothing had happened. In fact, their next album, “Theatre of Pain”, was their biggest seller to date.
Sure, it doesn’t always work out. Milli Vanilli didn’t recover from lip-synching. Michael Jackson’s pedophile scandal damaged his career and dogged him until his death last spring. Phil Spector’s murder conviction didn’t help him, and he’s likely to be behind bars for the rest of his life. All of those scandals actually offended core customers!
When the controversy doesn’t offend the core customers, negative press is as good – or better – than positive press.
How can a brand maximize the opportunity when they make the news in a scandalous way?
1. Have one message.
Appoint one spokesperson, and tell one story. Make your message unambiguous. Beautifulpeople.com has done a great job of consistently being unapologetic for their actions, and they’ve used the opportunity to explain what their website is all about.
2. Get ahead of the story.
Don’t let the media catch you off guard. You are making the news, not just reacting to it. As a brand manager, you should have a pretty good sense of what is going to play and not play with your audience. Beautifulpeople.com has been right there, ready to comment and move the story forward in the news cycle.
3. Use your own network to feed the fire.
Through your Facebook fan site and Twitter feeds, keep your customers up to date on your side of the story during a scandal. After all, those who support your brand are not likely to be put-off by the controversy.