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Does Controversy Help Your Business or Kill It?


In my experience, I have always thought it important to keep controversial topics clearly separated from business. Business owners who have strong political opinions should keep their positions away from their businesses and their company’s social media channels.

Recently, I read an article on Social Media Today called “The Key to Social: Be Controversial” written by Toby Margetts. Margetts gave three examples of corporations who managed to change controversy into a marketing strategy.  One example he gave was Abercrombie & Fitch CEO, Mike Jeffries, and his comment about the company’s exclusivity toward the “attractive, all-American kid.”  His claim that only cool, popular kids belong in Abercrombie & Fitch clothes caused a huge uproar on social media; many of my own Facebook friends vowed never to buy their clothes ever again.

Mother Jones

However, Margetts argues that the brand created an even stronger desire to wear the brand by targeting the exact group it specified: “the conceited, supercilious cliques whose social values are excluding the uncool and the unpopular.”  All of Abercrombie & Fitch’s marketing has always targeted this audience, and we’ve noticed this for years with their risqué posters and shirtless male models, ever-present at the doors to their storefronts.  Although Jefferies seemed to have forgotten sensitivity when he made this comment (or perhaps he just didn’t care), he managed to make his brand all the more desirable for kids aspiring to be cool.

From a small business standpoint, is it worth the risk to be controversial?  I would say, it depends.  If you are a solar power provider and voice your opinion on fracking, your job depends on your ability to promote alternative energy resources, and you would be targeting an audience seeking out these alternative energy options for their own homes or offices.  If you run a business that caters to a larger audience with mixed opinions, such as a restaurant, you may do better to avoid controversial topics.  For a small, local business, there is much more to lose when you isolate groups of potential customers.

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