We live in a culture where controversy sells. Just think Miley Cyrus and her recent ridiculous marketing antics. Our society loves juicy news, shocking revelations, and scandalous topics. Some of the biggest products and TV programs in the world are predicated on mocking established traditions and social mores. For example, you might remember how Dan Brown’s bestselling book, “The DaVinci Code,” and the MTV show, “Jersey Shore,” created a firestorm of attention, because so many people were intrigued by the controversy they generated. The debate even fueled some religious and political groups to publicly ban the book and the TV program from their organizations.
If controversy works so well, does it deserve a place in your marketing plan? No, because there’s a better option. Controversy just for the sake of shock value usually produces a detrimental side effect. You may get a lot of attention in the short run. But, you can windup sacrificing your reputation in the long run. Once you lose your integrity with the public, it’s very hard to get it back. Instead, use a better alternative: Be contrarian, rather than controversial. There’s a big difference between the two.
Controversy is usually based on a self-centered motive to gain attention to yourself. In contrast, a contrarian approach usually centers on helping other people by challenging the way they think. You attempt to benefit others by pushing them beyond the status quo and offering an unexpected set of ideas. You know you’re being contrarian in an effective manner when people respond, “Hmm, I’ve never heard that before…I haven’t thought about it like that…I’ll have to give what you said some more thought.”
On the surface, controversial and contrarian marketing tactics may appear the same. Both approaches can cause a stir and rouse people’s emotions. But, at their core, there’s a fundamental difference between helping yourself and helping others. Controversy tends to leave a negative wake, because people tire of those who constantly want attention. In contrast, contrarianism tends to leave a positive wake, because people like those who consider their best interests. Leave controversial marketing tactics to the short-sighted shock-jocks who are here today and gone tomorrow. Take a long-term view by being contrarian and gain an audience who will still respect you years from now.