Is Bad Advertising a Good Thing?

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For years, many ad execs and PR reps have held to the old adage that bad publicity is a good thing: it keeps a company (or person) in the spotlight. Even if the news making the rounds is bad, people are talking about it. Celebrities will often have well-placed “rumors” published in order to make sure the rest of us are keeping their names in our minds. These dodgy methods worked in the old days, but I’m not so sure they hold water in what I like to call the “social media times.” With seemingly everyone on the planet using sites such as Twitter and Facebook to discuss what we do and do not like, is it really a smart idea to cast yourself in a negative light to get your name on our tongues – or the tips of our fingers?

Indiana-based Hacienda restaurants recently launched a billboard campaign which took pot-shots at the 1978 Jonestown cult massacre, in which more than 900 people died after drinking poisoned kool-aid. Upon seeing the offending signage, one local patron informed the company that “the very notion that a local restaurant would trivialize such a worldwide tragedy to simply increase their sales of cocktails is outrageous to me, and it offended me to the core.”

Hacienda removed the billboards just two weeks after spending the money to erect the messages. Jeff Leslie, vice president of sales and marketing at Hacienda, acknowledged that the billboards were a mistake. “Our role is not to be controversial or even edgy. We want to be noticed — and there’s a difference,” he stated in a press release… and therein lies the problem.

During the Super Bowl this year, Groupon aired a commercial which ticked off people across the country. The masses were offended by the company’s apparent “lack of respect” in poking fun at world problems such as dwindling whale populations and deforestation. The company didn’t do so to be “mean.” They were using those as impetus for you to visit their Save the Money site. Doing so would allow you to donate money to help these causes. The trouble here is that this wasn’t made clear to many people who saw the ad and were simply outraged at the images shown.

This is where we begin to take a look at whether or not bad advertising is a good thing these days. Sure, we talked about both issues ad nauseum. There was a hell of a lot of press generated for both companies. But – and this is a big one – did that PR turn into increased revenue for the companies as it may have in the olden days of advertising? I’m thinking this is a definite no.

Social media fanatics are a finicky bunch. We take the recommendations of our friends and peers seriously. We look to them to figure out whether or not we want to dine at a particular restaurant, shop at a certain store or check out the latest flick at the theater. It stands to reason, then, that we also listen up when they tell us not to visit a particular website. When a business – or person – ticks us off, we tend to shout about it fairly loudly within our Tweet stream and on our Facebook wall. Our friends reiterate the message to their friends, perhaps adding that there’s no way in hell they’d stop by anytime soon after reading this… and we’re off!

It would be interesting to see some type of statistics showing whether or not traffic through Groupon declined or grew after the ad fiasco. I’d also be interested in knowing if anyone has eaten at Hacienda since their infamous billboards showed their faces across the Hoosier State.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel that marketing personnel need to be more careful these days to never cross that line into “bad press?” Is it a good idea anymore to make sure your name gets “out there” – no matter what type of talk people are doing?