Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Is there no such thing as bad publicity?

Recent events surrounding the Susan Komen breast cancer charity and Planned Parenthood has gotten me thinking about the idea that all publicity is good publicity. It seems to me that there are times when bad publicity can actually be bad and others where it cannot, and that this mostly has to do with the nature of the recipient rather than anything about the details of the scandal.

As you might expect, Wikipedia has a long list of instances where scandal has brought people great success, and it seems that these cases have a lot in common.

If your primary opponents are obscurity and apathy then the rush of attention a scandal brings can be of huge value. Even if the majority of the people who hear about you are so offended that they don't want to have anything to do with you, some wont' be and through them you'll gain from your new found notoriety. This is why some early 20th century artists explicitly tried to attract the ire of morality crusaders. The crusaders weren't the target audience anyways, but they'd let people who were interested know what was going on.

On the other hand, if you're already well known your potential to gain from notoriety is much smaller. And if you can suffer from disapproval you might be even worse off. The worst people who disapprove of a business can do is often just boycott the product, but a politician or political movement has to appeal to a majority then turning people against you can be a serious negative consequence.

So where does this leave Susan Komen and Planned Parenthood? Both experienced a huge surge in donations with the recent fracas, but for both there's more than just the short term to worry about. If Susan Komen has attracted a large number of conservative who just like to see someone stick it to Planned Parenthood, but who don't care as much about breast cancer then this will just be a flash in the pan. That would come down to how much social conservative care about breast cancer versus social liberals. But, of course, Susan Komen soon reversed their course, so now we're left asking how much the appearance of inconstancy will hurt them, versus more widespread public knowledge about their mission. I'd guess that their revenues will be up a year from now, but I'm not totally sure. Remind me in a year, and we'll see how right I was.

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