The Art of Controversy Marketing


The worst thing about a brand is to not be talked about. Good thing, bad thing, interesting thing, boring thing, anything! As long as it is something.

That’s what they now probably teach in the brainwashing textbooks where priests lay down the dogma of this is thus and if you follow the dogma then you’re a professional, otherwise you’re an amateur outsider who don’t know nothing.

While Vitalik does marketing by dancing or clapping or wearing silly (but cool) t-shirts and of course by explaining the stupendously cool eth2.0 stuff, Craig Wright does marketing by filing lawsuits, while Poloniex does so by coming up with silly logos.

There’s a new method of marketing in the digital area which we can call negative marketing, cheating, headache inducing marketing, blackhat marketing, or our favorite: dark marketing because it is pretty ree.

Faking popularity is a pretty obvious example. Getting people to talk about you by angering them is an art that the mainstream media has perfected to the point of doing it far too much – and thus reducing their mainstreamness as readership eventually catches on.

It was long found that talking about your competitor negatively has the effect of increasing your competitor’s popularity.

Thus, if you want to “steal” someone’s audience or customers, you could go where they hang out, pretend you are such customer, and then start reeing about your product.

The effect is predictable. First, you’ll probably get upvotes because your competitors’ customers will probably agree that your competing product is trash as otherwise they’d be a fan of your product rather than your competitors.

Second, the “hold on let’s be reasonable here” guy will eventually show up to say yes, but, and let’s not…

A discussion will then probably ensue. The bigger the discussion, the better. If you can get these pages to talk about it, meaning it has reached the stage where it can’t be ignored, then you’ve hit the jackpot. Making our job as reporters quite complex because it isn’t always easy to tell when it’s just marketing and when it’s just idiots.

Even if the media doesn’t talk about it, the initial discussion might spur up further discussion. If you then get to the stage where big people are talking about it, you may have well created a discussion which never ends.

Make sure to not over do it. If astute observers call you out, then you may find out there is such a thing as bad marketing, or brand damaging marketing, or money/value/network effects burning marketing.

It is preferable to keep the discussion going by spreading it out and by changing the angle with the aim of keeping your competitors talking about you, but not so much that the ree reaches the level whereby the mere mention of your brand attracts downvotes by your competitors or “shutting up” comments.

The above applies regardless of whether the emotion you target is anger or fear. For the latter it is a bit more complex because fear usually attracts a counter-reaction. The first such counter-reaction is usually scapegoating. The creation of a caricature image, the reduction of 3d to 2d or even 1d where it’s a brand.

To avoid such counteraction make sure to have some leverage or power over your competitor’s communication channels. That doesn’t necessarily mean Reddit. Getting miners to run your client can work, although to a lesser extent.

Another thing that can work is creating controversy not related to your brand. Divide and conquer, in this case attention, does still remain effective to some extent.

The end game is obviously to change opinion or to get your name out there. So in your own fora, you create a carefully curated public space where ideally you’d be mindful of the main rule of marketing.

You can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all people all the time.

If this rule is not adhered, then the effect is likely to be temporary and while the efforts might reap some results, they are unlikely to do so to a worthwhile extent.

To counter dark marketing, revealing it is the first step as when light shines upon darkness, it does have the effect of darkness vanishing.

It is the case that the vast majority, by far, are good people and they want to feel good about whatever project they support.

Good here is a very subjective term, but revealing say faked popularity does suggest an inclination to cheat and people usually don’t like being cheated.

Where there is much choice, considerable competition, and the switching cost is very low, it can be the case that the textbook dogma is wrong.

That is, it can be the case that it is better to not be talked about at all, rather than be talked negatively, because while initially there might be some grabbing of attention, it can be the case that the first impression formed leads to you being discarded as a choice.

First impressions are very difficult to change because we have so many decisions to make that we prefer to use short-cuts as much as possible.

Dark marketing therefore can backfire and can backfire badly especially if it is a very early stage project.

More importantly, it can backfire if it is perceived as fake or if it appears to be fake. If there’s some short-falling in your competitor and you happen to have a solution, then the way you get the word out perhaps doesn’t matter too much.

If, on the other hand, you kind of have little to offer except for controversy marketing, then you’ll probably be discarded as an option by the vast majority.

Our point being that we don’t think controversy marketing works because the engagement in it, by itself, suggests you don’t have much to offer and if that is the case then any sort of marketing would be quite a waste of time.

In addition, for competitors to counteract controversy marketing is very easy. They just engage in good marketing which informs, highlighting the shared values, highlighting the benefits, and through action effectively show themselves to be superior if for nothing else then because they’re not effectively trying to cheat through dumb marketing.

Which is why we think the textbook is wrong. Or more correctly, being talked badly about can be a good thing if you are wrongly being talked badly or if in some other ways when looked holistically the negative statements are somewhat unreasonable or so minor as to be canceled by other things.

If, on the other hand, such negative statements are well deserved, then people do know about you now, but they also know to avoid you.

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