INSTANT MBA: Controversy Can Be A Good (Or Bad) Thing For Businesses

Today’s advice comes from Jonah Berger, professor at The Wharton School, via LinkedIn:
“Can controversy be good for business? Does it boost buzz? Might it increase sales? Controversy does two things. First, controversy makes things more interesting to talk about. It’s pretty boring if everyone has exactly the same opinion, so a little bit of dispute keeps discussion stimulating. The different sides get to air their views and the debate can encourage conversation.”

Berger warns business people, however, that not all buzz is good buzz. Sometimes, controversy can make people, even the most loyal customers, feel uncomfortable. There’s a fine balance between too much controversy and just enough as the latter generates just enough chatter to boost word-of-mouth marketing.

“For brands like JC Penney though, or politicians like Anthony Weiner, the downsides of controversy may outweigh the benefits. JC Penney isn’t looking to be edgy. The brand wants to seem mainstream and middle-of-the-road. So while moderate controversy might get the brand some free press, it’s not clear that press is what they want in the long run. Controversy, then, is the proverbial double-edged sword. While a little garners attention, too much can hurt, and it may not be the type of attention most people or brands want.”

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