Can bad publicity be good?

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” You’ve probably heard that a few times. You’ve probably said it a few times. It’s a cliche that tends to make non-PR people roll their eyes. “Of course a publicity person would say that.”

Of course PR people don’t really mean it. What they really mean, I think, is that not all bad publicity is bad. And some is good.

Well, now we’ve got some research to back that up.

As it turns out, negative publicity can be helpful for raising awareness of an unknown brand.  It’s less helpful — and more hurtful — for well-known brands.

But it also matters what the nature of the bad publicity is. Bad publicity about a product or service has negative repercussions. (Think of what has happened to Toyota sales.) But bad publicity that is unrelated to the product has far less impact. The example they give is the Gap logo imbroglio. It’s unlikely that publicity about a bad logo is going to have any negative impact on sales.

What’s the takeaway here? I don’t think it ever makes sense to pull a PR stunt to try and raise awareness for your business. It’s too risky. But it likely means that you can worry a little less about negative publicity if you are small brand. Conversely you need to worry a bit more as your brand grows — you have more to lose. In any event you have the most to worry about if the negative publicity about your products. Of course I don’t think you really needed a study to tell you that.

Today, this conversation happened

Maddie, in the living room, holding a little piece of plastic that appears to belong to some toy.

Preston: Maddie, what’s that?

Maddie: It’s my credit card.

Preston: Your credit card? Where did you learn about credit cards?

Maddie: From Anashar [our nanny].


For the record I strongly doubt that Anashar taught her about credit cards.  I suspect she picked it up from me or Preston. Or from some financially savvy preschooler.