Is Controversy always a Negitive Expression?

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Like religion, politics, and family planning, cereal is not a topic to be brought up in public. It’s too controversial.

Erma Bombeck

In post-racial America, anyone can be called out as a producer of racist messaging, even cutting-edge African-American spoken-word artists such as Tyler the Creator of Odd Future.

The advertising brain trust at Mountain Dew is not blind to the potential cross-demographic appeal of transgression-talking rappers, but PepsiCo’s marketers were—in retrospect—entirely tone deaf to a pitch that would incite a multicultural, cross-gender backlash.

“Arguably the most racist commercial in history,” proclaimed Dr. Boyce Watkins, a finance professor at Syracuse University and founder of Your Black World Coalition.

“Such misguided attempts to make fun out of violence against women really have no place in commercials, as should be entirely obvious,” states Aisha Harris at Slate, under the headline: “Mountain Dew Pulls Terrible Racist Ad.”

The promotional spot under attack is the final 60 seconds in three video collages of crass clichés created and directed by Odd Future’s Tyler the Creator.

Tyler, the Creator’s unapologetic nature is what not only fuels his art but usually is the core of his persona. After receiving backlash for his Mountain Dew commercial over racist undertones, Tyler told Billboard that he represents the advancement of Black men and not racism.

It’s a young black man who got out of the ‘hood and made something of himself, who’s now working with big, white-owned corporations. Not even in front of the camera acting silly, but directing it. I’m trying to be one of the directors. But instead of looking at the positivity from that, he’s trying to boycott Mountain Dew. Now that he’s doing that, not only is it messing up opportunities for me, but also maybe opportunities for another young black male who maybe looks up to me and wants to do that in the future. It’s ludicrous.

I am somewhat of a controversial individual that has been blessed with maturity and balance in christ Jesus. I still find certain issues like “felon relief” and “disenfranchisement of any race of people” to need a controversial approach inorder to get society attention, but my spirit will not allow me to act to the inward reaction or thoughts. Here are some of my thoughts about being negitive and out of touch with your approach to life and earning money. We allow desperate times to dictate moral behavior.

I recently listened in on a webinar where a young guy was pontificating on the best strategies to build an audience for your content. A pillar of his presentation was “be controversial.”

This struck me as odd. Is “controversy” really a sustainable position for a content marketing strategy? The more I thought about this, the more I disliked this advice.

First, let me distinguish content that is “conversational” or “thought-provoking” from content that is controversial. A definition of controversial is “a state of prolonged, contentious public dispute or debate.” The keywords here for me are “prolonged,” “contentious, and “public.”

Sometimes controversy happens. Occasionally, it might even be unavoidable. But is this a tactic you should mindfully pursue as a long-term content strategy? Let’s take a look at five reasons why the answer is NO.

1) It is naive.

I have this image in my head. I walk into my boss and I say, “Hey, I just attended this webinar and I’m convinced that we need to be more controversial to be build our company’s blog audience.”

What do you think the reaction would be?

Can you think of any respected, successful company that pursues a prolonged dispute as a social media marketing strategy? Of course not. Companies are built to avoid controversy. Most brands are not built on a negative emotion.

2) It is exhausting.

Have you ever been in the middle of an online controversy? Nothing can suck up more time and energy from your day. Do you really want a strategy with that impact on productivity?

3) It is not sustainable.

Reading “contentious” content is like watching a train wreck. In short doses, it might be gruesomely compelling, but it is not something you want to expose yourself to every day.

Study after study shows that positive, uplifting content gets more views and clicks over time. Who wants a steady diet of prolonged disputes?

4) It drives the “wrong” traffic.

Let’s say you’re the playground bully. Every time you start a fight, a crowd might gather to see what’s happening, but then they walk away when the fight is over. The people who watch might even pretend to be your friend and say the right things but they’re never going to totally trust you because if the bully is chronically contentious, it is only a matter of time before they turn on you too.

Controversial blog posts are like a schoolyard fight. It might drive a short-term spike in traffic through the “fascination” value, but is it going to make somebody want to befriend you? Become a customer? Or, are they just going to stay on the sidelines and walk away?

5) It’s inauthentic.

Adopting “controversial” as a strategy is kind of like adopting “angry” or “love-struck” as a theme. If you are forced to aim for the same emotional tone every day, how do you avoid becoming a character instead of an authentic person?

So I hope some of this makes sense. I am NOT saying that you should never be controversial. If you bring your humanity to your blog, occasionally you may strike a chord in others that results in a dispute.

About 2-3 times a year I write a post that results in controversy. But my content strategy is not to purposefully churn up a dispute. My strategy is to be honest. And sometimes being honest requires the courage to say things that go against the grain of popular opinion and to take the heat that comes with it.

I’d love to hear your take on this in the comment section … at the risk of being controversial, of course. : )

How does controversy work for or against you?


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