When Does Bad Publicity Help Sales?


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You know the old saying, “Any publicity is good publicity.” Is it true though? According to a recent research by Jonah Berger from the University of Pennsylvania, it depends.

His conclusion is that bad publicity will hurt established products and brands. For instance, when people started circulating the rumor that McDonald’s hamburgers were made with worm meat sales decreased by almost 25%.

If the product or brand is not that popular, however, negative publicity will tend to increase sales, and that’s because the effect of raising awareness about the product is greater than the negative impact of the publicity. Here’s a quote from the research:

Can negative publicity ever increase sales? An analysis of New York Times reviews and book sales suggests it can. Relative to not being covered, being reviewed in the New York Times increased a book’s sales, even in some instances where a reviewer panned the book. The book Fierce People, for example, was written by a new author and received an unambiguously negative review (e.g., “the characters do not have personalities so much as particular niches in the stratosphere” and “He gets by on attitude, not such a great strategy if the reader can’t ?gure out what that attitude is”), yet sales more than quadrupled after the review.

Interesting huh?

You can download the PDF here to check how the research was performed and the findings in detail.

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18 Responses to “When Does Bad Publicity Help Sales?”

  • DailyBestStuff

    The negative publicity is also a good way to get known by people. Not the best, but it is “close enough”. Nice writing anyway, and thanks for the link for the pdf.

  • Joseph Anzai

    I find this conversation so interesting. For some of you that are to young to remember, nearly two decades ago a marketing genius was brought to our attention and her name was Madonna. Her outfits, kissing girls (Brittney Spears) as well as her antics on stage were all played out in front of the public eye. She was scrutinized by the media, and that scrutiny brought her more free publicity and jettisoned her to fame far beyond any of her peers.

    Now, fast forward two decades and look at all the artist using what many call “Madonna marketing”. Artist like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and a current example in the media these days is Miley Cyrus formerly known as the sweet teeny bopper “Hanna Montana”. We almost forgot about Miley and now she is a current affair.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Dipendra Pradhan

    Sometimes the publicity is the most required and essential for any kind of brand. So any kind of publicity is good for the advertisement of the brand.

  • Mike

    Yes, it does and somewhat similar to negative publicity of any movie due to controversial elements.

  • Asher Elran

    If no one knows you the statement always holds true “Any publicity is good publicity”. But if you are an established brand bad publicity can really hurt your image and sales.

  • Bobby

    It was an intresting study. For a small business a negative publicity would be a way out from the bottom. On the other hand, when you have a big reputation, you may loose everything postive by negative news. This process is the nightmare of big brands and companies like toyota example. They lost a big image in states. Thats why those companies are spending millions on publicity. When you are beginner or have a new born brand. Negative publicity would be your second wing. But I think its only for certain industries. For example, ?f we are talking about F&B business, ? dont think that negative publicity will help to boost sales

  • Daily Tips for Life

    These days many movies and television soaps are sold via bad publicity, negative publicity or some kind of sensational news around the creation. Not a very good trend, but does anyone care as long as the marketing methodology works?

  • John Michaels

    Bad publicity may provide some short term attention, but it’s probably still going to take a lot of work to turn that attention into something positive, or profitable.

  • James Hare

    I can’t believe that about McDonalds. As if people actually thought they were being fed worm meat! Ha ha. Thanks for the tips.

  • Tish

    Very good post. I also think that bad publicity equal good sales in reality tv. It depends on the product and what is being promoted. If the brand is a person and a little bit of bad boy or bad girl happens (sometimes a lot), it may not be a bad thing for the brand.

  • Jawad

    To me, you have answered the question you asked within the post. Any known brand will take negative effect with any bad publicity. It will not help gaining more business but instead it will decrease rapidly. But after some time, sales will reach normal because people tend to forget rumor if it does not turns out to be fact in future.

    However, in upcoming brands and less known company it can come as good fortune.

  • Reden

    I think bad publicity is very effective way to make surfers dig more deeper on a certain topic. This is a diversion so that their products or services creates name itself. This is just my opinion.

  • BRAD

    I agree 100%. Frequently a unpopular product just gets a bunch of negative publicity because of unpopularity. The publicity has just the opposite effect. More readers are directed to the product. That will tend to increase sales. The market – the larger market – suddenly becomes aware and begins to push notice above the average level. That is why a lot of publicity doesn’t always mean we have something important. We still have to be critical ourselves. What do you think?

  • Underemployed1

    If Americans have one superpower, it is the power of purchase. We have the money. Unemployed, underemployed, or whatnot, we have more money than 99% of all the people in the history of the world. What we choose to buy – or not to buy – has a HUGE impact. Use it, people. Screw Walmart!

  • Trevor

    Really insightful, Daniel. Thanks for posting.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Steve B, I guess it varies. For some curiosity, for others they want to buy it and get their own conclusions regarding the quality.

  • Steve B

    Indeed, very interesting.

    Though, I don’t understand the mindset of the customer that chooses to buy a certain product or service, despite the negative press. Maybe curiosity??

  • Martina McKeough

    Kate Moss and the cocaine scandal is a perfect example. When the scandal first appeared she was dropped from a number of campaigns and it looked like her career could be over. But in fact her brief trip to rehab made her look sorry and now her career is stronger than ever.

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