Commentary

It's Okay To Hate This Article

'Could it be that nothing builds customer loyalty like a little controversy? It sure seems that way sometimes. For example, have you ever noticed that whenever MediaPost's publications run an article with "Twitter" in the headline, reader comments flow like water - from both the Twitteries and the wake-me-when-it's-over crowd.

This speaks to the power of polarization, putting something out there that immediately evokes strong feelings from the audience, one way or the other. Either you're "fer it" or "agin it." No in between. Polarization is a natural progression of knowing your customers and single-mindedly focusing on doing everything possible to appeal to them, getting into their heads and figuring how to best connect with them. And to heck with anybody else.

If you're speaking relevantly to your audience, you really don't care about the rest of the universe. If you're selling surfboards, you don't care about the trucker in Topeka. If you're selling a crop herbicide, you don't care about the barista in Berkeley. If you sell hunting rifles, you don't concern yourself with the pacifist in Pasadena. And if you're selling Speedos, well, I'd be surprised if you ran an ad in AARP Magazine.

And if that happens to rub some folks the wrong way, so what?

Martin Lindstom, in his book Buy-ology, which focuses on the science of neuro-marketing to explain why we purchase the products we do, concludes that the reason for the runaway success of the Calvin Klein jeans featuring a 14-year-old Brooke Shields isn't what we first thought. It wasn't the sex that sold. It was the controversy.

Too many marketers, though, avoid polarization. Why stir up any controversy? Why would we put anything out there that someone might find a bit off-putting? Imagine the letters!

If you think about it, attempting to avoid polarization is really just another way of trying to be all things to all people. And as we learned on the first day of Marketing 101, that doesn't work.

The thing is, if you put something out there that really resonates with your audience (and it's authentic), and someone who is not your target weighs in with their dissatisfaction, it'll probably incite your customers to come to your defense. The "controversy" surrounding your messaging gives your loyal customers permission to enter the conversation and stick up for you.

Be wary, though. Creating controversy for controversy sake doesn't necessarily polarize people. It just pisses them off. Taste matters. And if your target market sees your "faux controversy" as a misguided attempt to get some cheap ink, you're a goner.

The most effective controversy is the kind that comes to you, rather than you looking for it. When Benetton caused a stir with its ads a decade ago showing AIDS patients, the company did it as a way of supporting that cause, not necessarily to shock or alienate the public at large. Yet, here we are discussing it years later. How many other fashion ads from that era can you say you remember?

In this age, when people are bombarded with literally thousands of options and thousands of selling messages every day, you need to engineer something into your products, its positioning or it communications to keep from fading into that bland gray morass.

After all, at a beauty pageant, no one remembers Miss Congeniality.

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1 comment about "It's Okay To Hate This Article ".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , July 30, 2009 at 8:54 a.m.

    Rule 1 of advertising: Get their attention
    Rule 2 of advertising: Keep their attention
    Rule 3 of advertising: Keep their attention

    I learned that in an 8th grade advertising class back in...well, think Mad Men.