Branding Secret: Controversy Sells

Burlington, ON (George Torok) 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.

Controversy sells newspapers, books, and movies. You can also use controversy 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 can be a powerful branding technique. But it comes with a cost. It means that you will need to take a position. You will offend some and strongly attract those who like your position. Are you willing to be so bold?

It could be as simple as the title that sells the movie. Consider the success of “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” or “Snakes on a Plane”. Both of those titles were vivid, graphic and controversial. People either immediately hated or loved the movie when they first heard the title.

At one time in the entertainment world it was enough to title your program as “The Greatest Show on Earth” to grab attention and get people talking. Today you might need to label your show as “The Vagina Monologues” or “Puppetry of the Penis” to get attention and create controversy.

The Guides for Dummies and Idiots series of books generated attention with the controversial titles. They sold very well. The multiplicity of topics tells you that.

The sensitivity of the content could create enough success in a movie. Consider “Passion of the Christ” and “The Da Vinci Code”. There was little need to advertise those movies. The controversy did all the heavy lifting for promotion. The media was talking and bloggers were blogging. Church leaders were preaching. People were protesting and arguing. What a great controversy.

Along came another movie with content guaranteed to raise controversy, “Death of a President”. To fan the flames the promoters not only published the usual supporting testimonial reviews – but also the comments from the detractors as well. Let’s hear from those who hate us. What delicious controversy. What terrific and profitable promotion.

And to tilt the readers’ perspective of the views they headed the positive views with the title, “Have seen Death of a President”. And on the other side the heading, “Have Not seen Death of a President.”

The controversy is both shaken and stirred by the strength of the negative comments as well as the sources.

Here are the negative ‘testimonials” for the movie, Death of a President:

Have Not seen Death of a President

“I think it’s DESPICABLE.”
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton

“I find this SHOCKING. I find this DISTURBING.”
Gretchen Esell, Republican Party of Texas

“(Director Gabriel) Range is a SICKO.”
Rush Limbaugh

“We’re not commenting because IT DOESN’T DIGNIFY A RESPONSE.”
Emily Lawrimore, White House Spokesperson

Powerful words from powerful people. It’s impossible to buy endorsements like that. Unwittingly those people endorsed the movie by polarizing the controversy. Imagine how many folks would watch the movie because of those powerful negative endorsements.

Controversy sells. Why? Because controversy is one technique for branding. Powerful branding declares both friends and enemies.

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.

Are you ready to make some passionate friends and enemies? Go ahead, make your brand.

George Torok© George Torok helps business owners gain an unfair advantage over the competition. His bestselling book, “Secrets of Power Marketing” is the first guide to personal marketing for the non-marketer. Get your free copy of “50 Power Marketing Tips” at To arrange a speech to your conference or team meeting visit To arrange a media interview call 905-335-1997

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