Why Bad Publicity Isn’t Always Bad

For my PR Media Programming class this spring, we’re writing weekly blog posts about all things PR-related. The article I’m discussing here says that people have so many choices, they’ll choose negatively-reviewed books or something just because they’re familiar with them! Our memories of what we specifically heard about products fade, but our awareness of the product remains.

Negativity happens

“No doubt about it, negative publicity hurts,” says Wharton College marketing professor Jonah Berger, “Yet there are also some interesting examples that seem to contradict this maxim.”

Berger conducted a research study (published in the journal Marketing Science) about the

positive effects of bad publicity on newly-released books, which he summarized in a blog post for Commpro.biz.

According to Berger, bad publicity like negative book or restaurant reviews don’t always harm an organization.

Prof. Jonah Berger

While the initial effects may be damaging – no one wants to see a bad movie – after time passes, people forget the specifics of what they read or heard. When they have to make a decision about which product or service to buy, they don’t remember the bad reviews they heard. They just remember they heard something about the product, and the familiarity is enough to get them to purchase the product.

People have a multitude of choices about what to buy everyday. There’s no way we can be aware of all of our options. Even buying something as simple as toothpaste is confusing. Thus, when awareness is low, says Berger, any publicity increases awareness and sales.

Bad publicity still hurts, though, for products that are already in the front of everyone’s minds. Gas sales at local BP stations certainly didn’t increase after BP’s infamous spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

But for creative PR practitioners, there’s still hope for positivity after prominent negative coverage.

Last semester, Tom James, Director of Media Services for the San Antonio Spurs, spoke to my Advanced PR class. James talked about his daily tasks, his career path, and working with a high-profile organization. He can’t control the actions of the Spurs’ players, but he’s in charge of how they look in the media.

James told our class the story of when one player was arrested for drunk driving on his motorcycle. James and the player decided to auction off the bike for charity, generating positive coverage from what could have been a very damaging incident.

Everyone wants to avoid bad publicity, but even with careful planning it’s going to happen. Here’s to making the best of every situation!


1 thought on “Why Bad Publicity Isn’t Always Bad

  1. Pingback: Why Bad Publicity Isn’t Always Bad – PR at Baylor University

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