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Is any publicity good publicity?

Published: Friday 21st December 2018

The old marketing adage says ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’. After all, anything that keeps your brand front-of-mind is good, but, in reality that’s not always the case. Depending on public perceptions of your brand, your business model and what you do, bad publicity can just be bad publicity!

Bad advertising

Living up to your image

Of course, if you already have a ‘bad boy’ image, so to speak, then negative publicity will just support this perception. Take pop star Kanye West, for example, a highly controversial character in the music world, yet the negative media coverage he gets by provoking controversy seems to go hand in hand with higher record sales.


At the same time, you can’t expect the same to happen for an oil company that hits the headlines due to an oil spill. That isn’t going to boost earnings at a time when the company costs are spiralling out of the control trying to contain the story and clean up the spill.

Oil spill and man picking up oil


In fact, negative publicity can cost a lot to put right. One example of that came in 2015 when Volkswagen was found to have deceived customers by installing ‘defeat devices’ in cars to enable them to pass emission tests even though, in reality, they were emitting 40 times the level of pollutants allowed in the US. The price of Volkswagen stock immediately fell 20% and sales that month was down 25% on the same period the previous year. By the time the CEO had resigned the company had lost a mind-boggling $30 billion.

When bad advertising works

Sometimes even advertisements in poor taste can help with brand awareness. One example is this obviously sexist advertisement for Aston Martin selling pre-owned cars. The ad shows a semi-naked lady in lingerie striking a seductive pose over a kitchen counter. Titled: ‘You know you’re not the first, but do you really care?’ Ironically, this was a fake ad by a Photoshop enthusiast and spread on social media. However, a prime example of how bad (and free) publicity can help a brand succeed.

All Aston Martin had to do in this instance to distance the brand from any negative publicity was to state it had nothing to do with them. Nevertheless, the management team will no doubt have welcomed the boost to brand awareness.

Flying high on bad publicity

Ryanair logo

One company that seems to thrive on bad publicity while blatantly advertising poor customer service is Ryanair. CEO, Michael O’Leary, has stated himself that ‘negative publicity sells more seats than positive publicity. That might be the case most of the time for the Ryanair. But it didn’t quite work that way for the company at the end of 2017. The budget airline said it would cancel around 50 flights per week for six weeks affecting some 315,000 passengers. While a research group, Core Media, found that the brand’s visibility jumped, brand sentiment collapsed spectacularly.

The lesson here is, be very careful when trying to use cheap negative publicity to promote a brand. It could turn out to be the worst type of publicity. Being in the recruitment industry, Zoek is in the business of people, and their livelihoods, so we’d never engage in any unethical practice that would result in negative publicity for our brand.

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