Remember during the 2014 Winter Olympics when skier Bode Miller became emotional when asked questions about the death of his brother? As he became distraught and tearful, the reporter kept asking more questions in an interview that was heartbreaking to watch.
Right after the interview aired it popped up in my browser. Many commented that the interview was inappropriate and were critical of the reporter. I couldn’t help but chime in:
“There was a time delay. The network could have chosen to not air the interview. They didn’t pull it because they knew it would boost the ratings and that it would blow up on social media.”
I believe (or want to believe), my response was more eloquent that this - but you get the drift. They COULD have pulled the interview. They had time to do so. They didn’t and it DID get a lot of attention on social media!
My post became a “featured comment,” drawing around 60 likes or so on MSNBC, and my website received over 200 hits in a short amount of time (which was a lot at the time for my teeny tiny site). I was astounded.
Controversy. Love it or hate it, it can be very effective tool in your marketing and communications arsenal.
Now, don’t get me wrong. When I posted my comment it was simply because I was honestly appalled by what I had seen and felt Miller (who after the fact was very supportive of the reporter) was exploited. I had no idea that it would draw any attention.
Why Controversy Works: With the seemingly “anonymity” of the internet people are becoming more vocal (even "snarky") online more than ever before. As marketers compete for whatever engagement they can get, controversial content is being used more frequently for shock value and to get a reaction.
Say Yes to the Dress! A great positive example of using controversial content to increase engagement was the “dress” debate in 2015 (see photo above). All over social media networks some saw the dress as blue and black - while others saw the dress as white and gold. It was EVERYWHERE! Why did it get so much media play? It created a viral buzz because people could comment and disagree.
In other situations I’ve discovered that controversy can even be used to right a wrong.
In 2016, the family of a very prominent (late) politician alerted me that their grandfather had been omitted from the cover of a popular magazine which highlighted the most influential individuals in Arizona history. I contacted the editor on their behalf and he agreed that it was a slight. This “complaint” resulted in a gorgeous full-length article and the family was very happy.
Caution: Just keep in mind that using controversy simply to get attention can be a dangerous thing. Yes, you may get more website or blog hits, but you also risk offending some (or all) of your followers.
Want to try “Controversy Marketing” to build your brand? Learn more in this Forbes article:
May the Marketing Gods be with you!