If there’s one family that is loved and reviled at the same time, it would have to be the Kardashians – the attention-seeking, top-dollar-earning, pampered family who seemed to have the tiniest details of their private lives out in the open, 24/7.
The family composed of Kendall, Kylie, Khloé, Kourtney and Kim, and their momager, Kris provided Americans and the whole world access not only into their homes, but also into the tiniest details of their privileged lives.
From whirlwind romances, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and quickie divorces— it was no holds barred. At times, watching their show over a cable channel is like watching a modern version of the Roman pastime wherein gladiators would be fed to lions while battling for their lives. You know someone is about to get hurt, and it could get ugly; but, hey, it still makes for a good social media topic.
For more than a decade, the Kardashian family from Calabasas, California has made their surname a veritable branding juggernaut–-from TV, fashion, commercial endorsements--down to the mundane such as spray tan and nail polish--not to mention, their beauty company. They are everywhere.
Their dominance on the reality TV market has earned them more than USD1 billion combined. Likewise, their influence in today’s pop culture and marketing brands is something to be reckoned with. For example, Kim Kardashian is currently one of the most-followed people on Twitter, with over 61.8 million Twitter followers and earning top dollar for every product push (about USD10,000 worth) through her contract with in-stream advertiser Ad.ly.
Like every top-dollar brand, the Kardashians have suffered severe blows to their image these past years, including a disastrous affiliation to a prepaid debit card with predatory hidden fees, and--yes--the infamous 72-day marriage between Kim and the New Jersey Nets basketball forward Kris Humpries. Negative publicity hounded the family incessantly these past two years, putting a serious dent in the credibility (their detractors will say that they have none to begin with) and longevity of their brand.
The family matriarch, Kris Jenner, believes that negative publicity is still publicity. In the Kardashian universe, being talked about—whether in a good or a bad light—is 10,000 times much better than being ignored.
Like Kris Jenner, PR 101 has taught you in school that any publicity is good publicity. It brings much-needed market attention to the brand and invites the curiosity of its intended market while stimulating brand awareness, in the process. In short, it generates buzz and piques the attention of the public.
This, however, may only be true to individual companies belonging to specific categories, and should not be taken as a consensus.
Negative publicity is good publicity… or is it?
The phrase, “There's no such thing as bad publicity" is something quite familiar. Is it the truth? To test this premise, researchers Alan T. Sorensen and Scott J. Rasmussen (from Stanford University) and Jonah Berger (from the Wharton School) conducted a study, based on the data cross-matched from the New York Times Book Review. They found out that books from relatively unknown authors get a significant push from their sales by more than 45% from expected sales trajectory after receiving negative reviews from literary critics. Books by more established authors, however, suffer from a drop in sales.
Ultimately, this highlights increased awareness that by introducing something to a broader public—even without glowing recommendation—awareness increases the chances that more members of the public will still want a product.
This is also true for small, unknown brands that stand nothing to lose and everything to gain by garnering a string buzz from its market. People will always be curious to try something out. And, in the case of the Kardashians, negative publicity sustains the people’s interest.
For big companies, negative publicity can spell disaster. Marketing experts have always warned about the potent combination of bad publicity, plus social media. In the days when there was still no Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogging sites, getting bad publicity was more manageable. You talk to people, and ask your PR and marketing experts to rectify the situation and go on a Crisis Communications mode. Or, you can wait it out until the buzz has died out, and people have moved on to the next big thing. That was always the tried and tested method.
That is, until the resurgence of social media and digital marketing, wherein issues and gripes can grow overnight. When fed with public opinion, an incessant yet manageable buzz can become every publicist’s worst nightmare.
Remember when Gap tried to change its logo, and the design and marketing community didn’t like it? Gap was inundated with complaints and negative buzz online and offline. Someone even made a Twitter account for the unpopular logo; another created a site that made fun of the unpopular design choice. In four days (and after the deluge of negative PR), Gap came back with the previous logo.
This all boils down to how good the company can manage its buzz. Truth is, people really do have short memories and tend to move forward to the next “best” or “it” thing, as soon as the current buzz starts to bore them.
For large companies, bad publicity tests their mettle and the cohesiveness of their brand. It allows them to become more responsive and introspective of their branding and publicity strategies. The problem with bad publicity in today’s modern times is that bad write-ups and the negative criticism tend to stick around longer, especially on the Internet where everything is searchable with just a few clicks.
Your company does not have to be vulnerable to public opinion. Guess what, you can actually fight back and regain your good reputation amidst negative publicity.
Knowing that you can harness good publicity, keep in mind these reminders to help launch your brand in the right place:
First, have a good publicity plan in place, highlighting your company’s potential and capability as a good corporate citizen.
Explore the possibility of building good relationships with the media catering to your industry.
Have a key message, and always stick to it.
More importantly, you can also utilize the endless capabilities of the Internet by investing in digital marketing to give your brand a positive push. Combat negative publicity by ensuring that your company is associated with credible and respectable organizations and forums, online and offline.
Yes, negative publicity is still publicity, and it’s up to you to use this to your advantage.