In the world of marketing, controversy and contrarianism are often used to gain an audience’s attention or generate media exposure. Many people confuse these two methods as being the same thing. Yet, there is a marked difference between being controversial and being contrarian. Let’s look at an example from current events to highlight what sets these methods apart.
Colin Kaepernick, the backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers football team, has captured headlines by refusing to stand for the national anthem before games. In interviews, he stated:
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick’s stance has attracted the attention of people across America. He has been lauded as using his platform to speak out against injustice. Yet, he also angered a lot of people, including military personnel, police unions, and patriotic citizens around the nation.
I’m not writing to pass judgment on Kaepernick’s viewpoint or beliefs. But, I am passing judgment on his marketing approach. There is a major difference between controversy and contrarianism. Colin could have attracted more people to his cause if he understood the difference:
Controversy focuses on emotion and a problem.
Contrarianism focuses on logic and a solution.
Kaepernick has generated a lot of emotion with his behavior. He also successfully drew attention to a problem that concerns him, which is racial injustice. He used the power of controversy to the fullest extent. Marketers would give him high marks for getting so much publicity and media coverage for free.
However, Kaepernick could have furthered his campaign a lot more if he used the power of contrarianism. Right now, many people aren’t willing to entertain his opinion, because his controversial actions are devoid of clear answers. His marketing attempt feels to vague and unclear.
In contrast, being contrarian also generates emotion and addresses a problem – but goes a step further to incorporate logic and offer specific solutions. For example, Colin hinders his efforts by making generic statements devoid of a solution, such as,
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
His statement is the equivalent of someone saying,
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for this country until there is a cure for cancer and global warming is reversed.”
When you draw attention to a problem without using logic to offer a specific solution, you undermine your credibility and hinder the ability for people to take you seriously. People could easily correct Kaepernick on the fact that protesting against the entire country doesn’t make logical sense. He’s lived the American dream and dwells in one of the few places where citizens can protest without going straight to jail. In contrast, Kaepernick could have used the more effective power of contrarianism by saying something like:
“I am not going to stand quietly until the police leaders in (this specific city) visit the families of (these specific victims), offer restitution for the families’ loss, and transparently examine if the officers involved should be removed. These steps will help bring necessary healing to the families, peace for the nation, and maintain honor among our police force. Once these steps are underway, I’ll gladly join everyone for the national anthem.”
Notice how this statement goes past an emotional, generic declaration and offers specific solutions to address a problem. There is no open-ended opinion that sounds hopeless. The media may love to hype controversy and fear, but most rationale human beings are drawn to sensible solutions.
When marketing a campaign, whether personal or corporate, contrarianism is a superior tactic over controversy. Being contrary will still generate plenty of hype and attract attention. Even better, a contrarian approach incorporates logic and specific solutions to maximize public interest in a campaign.
At its core, marketing is the art and science of persuasion. Defiant posturing can certainly generate emotion and capture attention. But, if you want a lot more people to buy what you’re selling, use contrarianism to combine the power of emotion and logic together.
If you’re struggling to implement a contrarian approach into your marketing campaigns or advertising, let Rob guide you through the process. Click on a button below for details: