There’s No Bad Publicity, Right?

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” That’s a line usually associated with P.T. Barnum, the 19th century American showman and circus owner.

Barnum made no attempt to hide his ambitions.  He wrote a book titled The Art of Money GettingIt’s a title Donald Trump (who has been compared to Barnum) would probably use on a book. It says what it is about right there on the cover.

Barnum was big on being a self-publicist. He used any opportunity to get his products in the public eye, even if some scandal was the reason. Get your name out there.

It is a theory that sometimes seems to work. Sometimes.

Some big companies like Volkswagen, BP and Toyota have had bad publicity the past few years and I don’t know that getting their name out there in those contexts was very good branding.

United Airlines was the bad publicity winner last week when it forcibly removed a man from a plane because they wanted his legitimately booked seat for an employee. Did it hurt their brand, stock price or change their policies?

Recently, Kendall Jenner got some bad publicity along with Pepsi for a Black Lives Matter-themed Pepsi commercial that was trashed in both the Big Media and social media. Distasteful. Insensitive.

Of course, every TV network replayed at least a portion of that commercial in their story. Free airtime, right? And the week after it aired, 19-year-old Kylie, who is big on social media, was announced as getting her own TV show, “Life With Kylie.” Coincidence? Result of the ad? Promotional consideration?

Burger King pulled off a clever, or devious, commercial recently. In the ad, a BK employee holding a hamburger says that there’s not enough time to tell you all about this burger, so he says “Okay Google, what is a Whopper burger?”

Okay, he is using technology. That’s cool.  But the employee’s words would also activate listener’s devices with Google Home to define a Whopper.

Google intervened to prevent the commercial, but it got replayed on shows and written about in lots of big and small media outlets.

Did Burger King run the ad knowing what would ensue?  Was that “bad” publicity actually baked into the campaign?

Is it legal? Marc Rotenberg, the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told Fortune that “Google (and others) literally ‘opened the door’ to this new hack when they put ‘always on’ devices in the home. We warned the FTC of the basic flaw in the architecture — it is not simply the owner that activates the device … They didn’t ‘listen,'”

Similar things have happened unintentionally with Amazon’s Echo when “Alexa” orders an item because using that name activated the device. One case that got a lot of attention was when Amazon’s Alexa started ordering people dollhouses after hearing its name on TV. That led to lots of posts about how to stop Alexa from ordering without your permission, thus disabling a feature that Amazon wants turned on.

Is there bad publicity? Absolutely. Is all negative publicity ultimately bad for a brand? No, but that is a very dangerous strategy to put into place.

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