Controversy Sells

Controversy Sells

Controversy Sells: Build Your Brand by Cultivating Controversy

“DON’T say maybe if you want to say no”.

Forever 21, the international fashion retailer came under fire this week for selling men’s tees bearing the offensive phrase. Outraged shoppers were quick to point out on social media that the shirt’s message was more than a fashion faux pas, it was “advocating rape culture” and “victim shaming”. Forever 21 has since pulled the controversial $19.90 T-shirt from shelves and online after being slammed with complaints. But the item is still visible on their website, but has been marked with a ‘Sold Out’ tag.

The company also released a statement in response to negative customer feedback: “Forever 21 strives to exemplify the highest ethical standards and takes feedback and product concerns very seriously. With regards to the T-shirt in question, upon receiving feedback from our customers, we took immediate action to have it removed from our website. We sincerely apologise to anyone who was offended by the product.”



So Here’s the little branding secret: Controversy Sells!

Do want a powerful branding strategy? Take a controversial position. Offend someone and attract your target market. But you have to pick your position and enemies carefully. Don’t offend your fans or best customers.

You can also use controversy branding to sell your product, service or yourself. Notice how they often do it in the movie business. The entertainment industry has lots of vivid controversy lessons for marketers. Controversy provokes people to express their opinion. Unwittingly those people endorsed it by polarizing the controversy. Imagine how many folks would watch a movie because of those powerful negative endorsements. Another recently example can be Donald Trump, the real estate tycoon, reality TV star and US presidential hopeful. He is leading recent polls among Republican candidates, despite an ongoing litany of controversial comments that would likely have torpedoed a traditional campaign. Trump’s opposition to illegal immigration, free trade, and military interventionism earned him support among working-class voters, especially blue-collar voters. His proposed policies and his statements about the state of the country have propelled him to be the consistent Republican front-runner in public opinion polls.



Do you remember the movie ‘The Interview’, a 2014 American political satire comedy film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. It was informed by various media that there were threats to the production companies as well as to the multiplexes screening the movie. And then what happens? The Interview grossed $40 million in digital rentals, making it Sony’s most successful digital release, and earned over $11 million at the box office. So controversy sells. Why? Because controversy is one technique for branding. Controversy branding can be a powerful branding technique but you will need to take a position. Many brands have benefited from this live exploding dynamite in their hands. Powerful branding declares both friends and enemies. You might build your brand with new followers or with loyalists by taking risks and playing with fire. What people say against you can be powerful promotion. When you want to create a strong brand in the marketplace first decide on who you want to attract then who you are willing to annoy. This could be the beginning of a strong branding position.

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