Controversy Sells

Controversy Sells

Many businesses tend to steer away from being controversial, but sometimes it can prove to be beneficial. Restauranter Howard Wein moved to Philadelphia to help design and launch a new steakhouse called Barclay Prime. Now, opening a restaurant is always a daunting task because 25% of them fail, and since they’re generally expensive there’s usually not enough money in the budget to spend on marketing. The success of a restaurant relies heavily on word of mouth. Word of mouth can become an uphill battle as well. So generally, it’s not easy. To solve this problem, Howard Wein came up with the idea of a $100 cheesesteak. But what warrants it being $100? He started with a fresh, house-made brioche roll brushed with homemade mustard and e added thinly-sliced Kobe beef. It immediately became a hit, and many people flocked to Barclay Prime just to try it out and have bragging rights. This is a good example of how controversy sells and ultimately helps a business generate buzz. In my experience of running a magazine throughout the past five years, I have seen my fair share of controversy and never steered away from it, instead, we took it head on.

In the influencer-dominated world we live in, companies are racing to appeal to influencers and remain on their good side. I mean, why wouldn’t they? The influencer marketing industry is expected to hit $10 billion by 2020 and companies can earn $6.50 for every dollar spent on campaigns. These incentives bridge a gap between morals and money for companies. Working in the editorial industry, I always have to decide whether I want to run a negative story about an influencer and risk losing readers or stick to my morals and publicize the truth. In early 2017, we got a tip from a reader about an influencer who had published an offensive and racist tweet. At that moment, I had a choice on whether I would report about it in my magazine or let it go. This particular influencer had a following of millions and was the face of a global campaign for a popular makeup company. I was up against a lot. Eventually, I decided to publish the story and it instantly went viral. This story put us on the map because we were the first to publicize the story. Other news organizations began to pick it up,  sourcing us. In the end, it received over 100,000 shares and millions of views. Usually, companies and magazines would steer away from this story because influencers help them financially, but our controversial decision put us on the map and we were able to brand as an alternative independent news organization that focuses on telling the truth. After that incident for the entire year, our views held steady at 500,000 views a month and our social media following on Twitter increase to 30,000 that month. From the collective outrage, we were able to reach a new fan base and loyal readership because they supported what we did.

This can work for musicians as well. In 2013, west-coast rapper Nipsey Hustle elected to sell the physical copies his Crenshaw album for $100. It was a part of his #ProudToPay movement. The response was crazy with many people thinking he was ridiculous for even trying; people couldn’t fathom why he would sell an album for $100. Nipsey had people all over the Internet talking about his album and eventually sold 1,000 copies of it. It even caught the eye of Jay-Z and he made up a tenth of the sales. Due to this working so well, Nipsey decided to do it again with his Mailbox Money album. He decided to increase the price to $1,000. Again, this price caused a lot of reactions and became a great marketing strategy for Nipsey because many blogs, news sites, and people on social media were commenting on the price and debating if it’s worth it. The controversial price paid off again. Nipsey sold 60 copies, making $60,000.

It’s important to never steer away from controversy. It’s important to get people talking, because of collective outrage and interest can prove to be good business tools. However, it’s necessary to utilize them the right way so as to not alienate your target audience.  

Many businesses tend to steer away from being controversial, but sometimes it can prove to be beneficial. Restaurant Howard Wein moved to Philadelphia to help design and launch a new steakhouse called Barclay Prime. Now, opening a restaurant is always a daunting task because 25% of them do fail, and since they’re generally expensive there’s usually not enough money in the budget to spend on marketing. The success of a restaurant relies heavily on word of mouth. Word of mouth can become an uphill battle as well, so generally, it’s not easy. To solve this problem Howard Wein came up with the idea of a $100 Cheesesteak, what warrants it being $100? He started with a fresh, house-made brioche roll brushed with homemade mustard. He added thinly sliced Kobe beef. Immediately it became a hit and many people flocked to Barclay Prime just to try it out and have bragging rights. This is a good example of how controversy does sell and help a business generate buzz. In my experience in the past five years of running a magazine, I have seen my fair share of controversy and never steered away from it.

In the influencer dominated world we live in, companies are racing to appeal to influencers and remain on their good side. I mean why wouldn’t they? The influencers marketing industry is expected to hit $10 billion by 2020 and companies can earn Earn $6.50 for Every Dollar Spent on campaigns. These incentives bridge a gap between morals and money for companies. Working in the editorial industry, I always have to decide whether I want to run a negative story about an influencer and risk losing readers or stick to my morals and publicize the truth. In early  2017, we got a tip from a reader about an influencer who had published an offensive and racist tweet. At that moment, I had a choice on whether I would report about it in my magazine or let it go. This particular influencer had a following of millions and was the face of a global campaign for a popular makeup company. I was up against a lot. Eventually, I decided to publish the story and instantly the story went viral. This story put us on the map because we were the first to publicize the story. Other news organizations began to pick it up sourcing us. In the end, it got over 100,000 shares and millions of views. Usually, companies and magazines would steer away from this story because influencers help them financially, but our controversial decision put us on the map and we were able to brand as an alternative independent news organization that focuses on telling the truth. After that incident for the entire year, our views held steady at 500,000 views a month and our social media following on Twitter increase to 30,000 that month. From the collective outrage, we were able to reach a new fan base and loyal readership because they supported what we did.

This can work for a music artist as well. In 2013, west-coast rapper Nipsey Hustle elected to sell his Crenshaw album for $100 for physical copies, it was apart of his #ProudToPay movement. The response was crazy with many people thinking he was ridiculous for even trying, people couldn’t fathom why he would sell an album for $100. Nipsey has people all over the internet talking. He sold 1,000 copies of it. It caught the eye of Jay-Z and he made up a tenth of the sales. Due to this working so well, Nipsey decided to do it again with his Mailbox Money album. He decided to increase the price to $1,000. Again, this price caused a lot of reactions and became a great marketing strategy for Nipsey because many blogs, news sites, and people on social media were commenting on the price and debating if it’s worth it. The controversial price paid off again. Nipsey sold 60 copies, making $60,000.

The main takeaways are never steered away from controversy. It’s important to get people talking, collective outrage and interest can prove to be good business tools, but utilize it the right way, don’t alienate your target audience.  

Evelyn Atieno
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