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  • Donna Lim

Is Bad Marketing better than Good Marketing?

Note from Larissa… I’ve always disagreed with the idea that "any publicity is good publicity." I disagree because it’s always been the motto of companies trying not to be held accountable for the horrible things they do. However, after reading Mike Michalowicz’s Get Different, I have a slightly more nuanced opinion. There’s bad publicity, and then there is "bad" publicity. One occurs because someone did something horrible, and the other occurs when someone does something… different. Let’s talk about that.

Here’s a blast from the past: The Ozone layer! Remember back in 1985 when Brian Gardiner and Johnathon Shanklin discovered a hole in the ozone layer that would invariably end all life on the planet Earth? Remember how, for nearly two decades, journalists would report that countries around the world refused to fix the issue? I know we haven’t talked about the Ozone layer in a while, but I have a question for you. Do you think the United Nations actually stepped up, forced countries to work together, and solved the issue? The same United Nations that habitually resists solving international human rights violations? The same United Nations that can’t come together to say that climate change is real and is affecting billions of people in the southern hemisphere now? Are you raising your hand?

…Huh. Well, now I kind of feel like a jerk. It took Twitter of all places to educate me that the hole in the Ozone layer was actually fixed. I did a little bit of research on the Montreal Protocol, and outside of some slightly shady agreements, this was the greatest example of global cooperation ever. The United Nations stepped up and solved the issue. However, is the person asking the question wrong? I certainly didn’t know about the Montreal Protocol until two paragraphs ago. I’m certain I don’t need to explain that this phenomenon isn’t exactly uncommon either. The animated show Futurama has a quote: "It’s very simple… when you do things right, people won’t know you’ve done anything at all." That is the core message of Get Different, and that is why I believe that there is a difference between bad publicity and "bad" publicity. "Bad" is simply publicity that gains attention, and while it might have us beset by some public mocking, it still gets people's eyes on us.

Don’t get the wrong idea, we can’t just have our 10 year old make shoddy marketing material for us and rake in the clients. Our marketing still needs to be quality, and we shouldn’t turn our business into a joke. Instead I would suggest that we need to create the illusion that our marketing is "bad" while still being quite good. A great example of creating that illusion is the BBC’s "Peter Pan goes Wrong,", a professional play that emulated an amateur production. The play features it’s lead characters swearing at the audience, "accidental" nudity, props that break every 10 seconds, and a few real injuries being sustained. If we were to analyze the play, though, we would still see how cleverly crafted the jokes are, and how difficult the level of synchronicity the play requires. Our goal when we market is to emulate that illusion to catch the attention of our audience, and subtly assure our audience that we aren’t fumbling doofuses.

There are many organizations that do this wonderfully, but I would like to point out two cases in particular. Denny’s, the restaurant chain that you only go to when you’re visiting your parents, has a Twitter that could be described as "awful to read". Scrolling through their feed we can see posts such as "*licks pancakes* I love America", and "Denny took his phone back… add me on Facebook," both of which are cause for horrible secondhand embarrassment. However, it’s not nearly as bad as the method that South Park chose to market their video game. Where most games would buy YouTube reviews and put ads everywhere you could look… South Park made a virtual reality device that would let the user smell farts. I can speak for everyone when I say that if humankind decided to upload themselves into a matrix-like device we would set that feature aside, never to be used. Naturally both brands were mocked for these marketing ploys, but Denny’s 3AM meals for stoners in their early twenties is still successful and South Park sold 1.6 million copies at $60 a piece. It’s important to note that both brands still market traditionally, but we should really focus on these two examples. Why did both marketing ploys aim to make us feel uncomfortable? Why does Denny’s opt to make odd posts but have a professionally made twitter bio? Why did South Park’s fart machine actually work?

Let’s rewrite time and take control of both of these brands' marketing departments. Instead of allowing Denny’s Twitter team to create embarrassing posts, we're going to advertise sales and menu changes with mouthwatering food photography! Instead of creating a novelty gag, we will spend that budget to put up billboard advertisements across the globe! In this reality we force a traditional marketing campaign, and we completely fall flat. Denny’s Twitter is never looked at, and South Park has to wait until the reviews are in to sell less copies. Both are still making a profit, but not the profit that they could have made. This is because everyone that looked at our marketing had their eyes gloss over, and we went unnoticed. But we did our job well! We did exactly what we were expected to do. But just like in Futurama, we did our job so well that we didn’t do anything.

We ought to be magicians when we market. Creating illusions that our audience thinks are absurd, but doing it with a professional quality. Denny’s posts are unhinged, but people still have all the details they need to go to their nearest Denny’s at a glance. South Park’s fart machine shouldn’t exist, but it was genuinely well made. We should strive for that. We should gain the attention of our audience with things that are unusual, but are so well done that we can still convert that interest into sales. Then, once we have that, we can start creating a brand for our businesses. Oh, you want to know what a brand is? And how do we ensure that our sometimes strange marketing fits with our brand identity? How do we turn our brand into a marketing machine? Don’t worry, we’re going to answer that next time.


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