In today’s cancel culture, anything offensive that an influential person said or did, whether it’s intentional or not, can easily bring one’s flourishing career and reputation to shambles. But as much as we deny it ― and whether it’s Dave Chappelle, Kanye West, Joe Rogan, or any number of other big-name celebrities ― the fact of the matter is that we actually love a good controversy.
We are naturally compelled to drama, rumors, and scandals that we spend hours talking about it with our peers and on social media, not realizing that we are actually doing the work for the parties involved in creating buzz and traction towards their projects.
Let’s closely examine the circumstances and how controversies, poor reviews, and bad publicity have ironically helped celebrities and creatives get their film and TV projects to the top of success.
When Bad is Actually Good
Public relations (PR) and marketing are crucial to a film or TV show’s success. While others often think that the work could speak for itself, the truth is that it’s not enough to reach a wide spectrum of target audiences. Common PR and marketing tactics and strategies such as events, press conferences, advertisements, influencer marketing, and film festivals are often used in promoting a project. However, there are instances when controversies, poor reviews, and negative word of mouth could actually boost sales and effectively raise awareness of a product or service.
“The movie Borat made relentless fun of Kazakhstan, but Hotels.com said that after the film was released, the number of requests it received for information about Kazakhstan went up 300 percent.”
Researchers Jonah Berger, Alan T. Sorensen, and Scott J. Rasmussen made an experiment to find out how positive and negative publicity affects people or companies. The experiment involved analyzing the sales of books promoted by the New York Times Book Review and asking people to read both positive and negative reviews and the likeliness of whether they will purchase it or not.
They discovered that the bad reviews actually increased sales by up to 45%
The results revealed that positive publicity and reviews almost always have a positive impact on awareness and sales. Furthermore, if you are an unknown brand or entity, there is no such thing as bad publicity. In fact, they discovered that the bad reviews actually increased sales by up to 45%. On the contrary, if you are known and established, bad publicity could hurt your brand or product, so erring on the side of caution is always recommended to reduce risks.
“The researchers suggest that something called the sleeper effect might be at work here. The sleeper effect holds that, over time, people remain aware of a certain company or product that they’ve heard or seen mentioned, even though they forget the actual information associated with it. So in this case, a bad review of an unknown book at least raises awareness of the book. Eventually, people forget that the review was awful, but the book still seems familiar to them, and they’re more likely to buy it than they are to buy a book that’s completely new to them.”
Nonetheless, it’s always best to think of the consequences of one’s actions because, at the end of the day, you don’t want your product or service to be associated with anything negative. Sometimes, constant controversies and poor reviews truly break a person’s career because brands or distributors will most likely revoke their partnerships with you in fear of being associated with the issue at hand, which could eventually lead to unwanted unemployment in the long run.
Reaping the Benefits of Bad Publicity
The Room (2003)
At the top of the list is none other than The Room (2003) by aspiring filmmaker Tommy Wiseau. This is a classic example of a film that shouldn’t have been made in the first place. However, Wiseau’s eccentric personality, wealth, and determination to become a filmmaker in Hollywood (despite not having any creative bone in his body) made this film possible. The film’s sole promotion channel was through a billboard of Wiseau’s face that was displayed on a busy junction in Hollywood.
When the film premiered, it quickly became the talk of the town, not for how amazing it was, but for how it horrifically bad it was. The negative word of mouth definitely contributed to its popularity by encouraging people to see what the fuzz was about. Interestingly, Wiseau paid $5,000 a month to keep his billboard on display for five long years, sparking curiosity among passersby to check out the film. Despite being the laughingstock of the industry, the film became a cult classic and was later adapted into an autobiographical film directed by James Franco entitled The Disaster Artist (2017).
Keeping Up with the Kardashians (2007)
Keeping Up with the Kardashians (2007) is one of the most iconic reality shows on TV, whether you like it or not. For 20 seasons, we got a front-row seat into the lives of the Kardashian sisters and their respective families. But before Kim K became a household name, she was merely known for being Paris Hilton’s sidekick. After her leaked sex tape scandal with Ray J, she instantly became the headline of tabloids and publications, which greatly helped their TV show gain viewership in its early days and made them one of the most successful and renowned families in the world today.
The Interview (2014)
When Sony released The Interview (2014), a satirical comedy about two journalists who were on a mission to assassinate North Korea’s notorious leader Kim Jong Un, it dominated the box office and streaming platforms all over the world because of the crisis that Sony went through. It became the studio’s highest-grossing online release and has earned over 40 million in digital sales and 6 million at the box office. Despite being a comedy, North Korea did not take it lightly and thought it was offensive, disrespectful, and damaging to their leader and country. As a response, North Korea perpetrated a cyber-attack and hacked Sony’s system. This bad publicity has definitely helped stir curiosity and compelled people to purchase the film to see what triggered North Korea to go down that road.
The Greatest Showman (2017)
The Greatest Showman (2017) should have had more than enough A-list Hollywood actors attached to it to easily pull in audiences to invest their hard-earned money into seeing Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, and Zendaya’s musical performances ― but it simply wasn’t the case. The film was accused by the media for whitewashing and sensationalizing the real-life story of American showman PT Barnum and his controversial and unacceptable practices of exploiting ‘freaks’ or differently-abled people to use their condition to entertain people and earn money. Due to the constant backlash and bad reviews by the media, audiences wanted to see for themselves if these allegations were true. Ticket sales skyrocketed instantly, earning the film $439.9 million dollars worldwide.
We often hear the saying “all publicity is good publicity” thrown around when it comes to PR and marketing. This notion implies that being talked about in a bad light is better than not being talked about at all. While this is effective for some, it doesn’t necessarily mean that others should follow suit. So we, as creators, should be careful about what kind of attention we attract.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.