Can Your Target Audience Handle Controversy?

Controversy is a double-edged sword. In some cases, being controversial and outrageous can help you increase your following and grow your brand. Lady Gaga is a good example of someone who has used controversy to propel her brand to new heights. In other cases, controversy can come back to bite you in the backside, causing you to lose customers and tainting your brand. There’s no shortage of examples I can think of to demonstrate this – GoDaddy’s elephant hunting video, Tiger Woods sexual escapades, etc.

Why is it that controversy can work in some cases and cause major damage in others?

It’s all about understanding your target audience.

See, when Lady Gaga puts out a video that includes sexual and religious imagery that some people find shocking, her target audience finds it amusing. They eat it up, so it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Her target audience can stomach that level of controversy. Perhaps, she’ll cross the line with her audience at some point, but she hasn’t done it so far. Thus, the controversy has been helpful in building her brand.

When GoDaddy released a video of its CEO ambushing and shooting an elephant, many of the company’s customers (its target audience) were outraged. A lot of customers actually cancelled their accounts with GoDaddy and went to other web hosting companies instead.

The interesting part is that GoDaddy is a brand that was built on controversy. Their TV ads featuring scantily-clad women got the company a lot of attention and a lot of customers. But the elephant hunting video stirred up a completely different kind of controversy…a kind of controversy that was seen as “over the line” by many of the company’s once loyal customers.

The point is pretty simple. If you plan on creating controversy, you’d better first make sure that your target audience is the type that can handle it. And you’d also better be sure that you’re prepared to handle any backlash that might come as a result.

What are your thoughts on using controversy to build a brand?

This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. Download a free copy of the PR Checklist – a 24 point list of Press Release Dos and Don’ts here:

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