The old adage about there being no such thing as bad publicity has undergone its most trying test yet during the 2016 presidential election campaign. Republican candidate Donald Trump has come under significant media fire for many of his actions and speeches on the campaign trail.
The media has mocked, ridiculed, berated, and heckled Trump again and again in a seemingly endless barrage of why voters shouldn’t support him as President of the United States. Yet against all odds, Trump’s position in the polls continued to rise until he became the appointed Republican presidential nominee. Now, however, his popularity is beginning to slip. The question now becomes—did bad publicity have any affect on the impetuous Donald J. Trump’s reputation?
Bad Publicity Throughout the Years
Historically, bad press has, in fact, negatively affected presidential candidates as well as businesses—despite the maxim that any press is good press. Take, for example, the Whole Foods scandal of 2015, which led to a much weaker sales growth quarter than its average, or Chipotle’s E.coli crisis that made stock prices plunge nearly 25%. Wise businesses see bad publicity as a great blemish to brand image and realize that it could be the beginning of the end.
Similar to a business, without the support of its audience, one would assume a candidate couldn’t hold up under intense media scrutiny. Indeed, the popularity of 2012 presidential candidate Todd Akin crumbled under the weight of bad press. After the media ridiculed Akin for remarks he made about “legitimate rape,” his ratings shrank to nothing. Yet the “Trump brand” seemed to be going strong despite the ample amount of bad press he has received.
As we grow closer to Election Day, we continue to keep a close eye on current polls. Recently, Trump’s favorability rating has gone down, with the majority of people polled now reporting an unfavorable review of the politician. The sudden change may be the result of a massive accumulation of bad press against Donald Trump—potential proof that the old saying is full of hot air.
What Bad Press Can Mean for Your Business
When it comes to your own business’s reputation, you probably want to stay on the safe side and avoid bad press altogether. A few enterprises have withstood the negative affects of bad press and continued to thrive, others have felt the wrath of the media in full-force and closed their doors—and still others appear to thrive under the harsh light of bad press. When it comes to business, I have to agree that there is such a thing as bad publicity—but I’ve seen it in action and must agree that it doesn’t always damage a company’s reputation or sales growth.
There’s a slew of memorable examples that stand out for all the wrong reasons throughout history, including the offensive British Safety Council ad that used the Catholic pope to advertise condoms. The backlash that this ad generated caused an uproar among Roman Catholics and ultimately damaged the Safety Council’s reputation. However, more recent examples shed a different light on bad press. The first one that comes to my mind is Cottonelle’s “Go Commando” campaign.
Consumers and the media alike call these advertisements “odd” and “daring” at best and “offensive” and “gross” at worst. Regardless of my own reaction to the ads, I have to admit that they are memorable. USA Today reported Cottonelle’s senior brand manager as stating that these ads break through the clutter of media advertisements with marked potential to go viral. Despite negative reviews concerning the ads, Cottonelle’s own test of 100 consumers came through with only two to three percent reacting negatively. Time will tell if these statistics hold up with a larger audience.
Controversy may be an exciting angle to take when planning your next major marketing campaign, but it doesn’t come without risks. Being controversial can certainly get people talking about your brand, but there’s no guarantee they’ll talk about you positively. If you believe your controversial advertisement or practice will generate more interest than disinterest, by all means, spice up your marketing techniques. If you’re afraid bad publicity will lead to a Trump-like crest and fall, take heart: you can avoid and handle bad press with a little preparation.
How to Handle Bad Publicity
If your business finds itself the victim of bad publicity, don’t stoke the flames. Don’t retaliate with attacks on the media or worse—on your consumers. The World Wide Web can be unforgiving, and everything you say and do is permanently etched in history thanks to digital media. Instead, apologize for your wrong and try to make amends with your consumers. Use social media as an asset to make a public apology, not as the final blow to your already-damaged reputation.
The best way to handle bad press is to let your work do the talking for you. Over time, your customers will see that you’ve redeemed yourself, and you can begin to regain the footing you once had in your industry. Customers may be quick to judge, but they can also be quick to forget—if you prove your trustworthiness in the long run. Continue doing what you do best, and you’re sure to outlast the negative press clouding your business.
When it comes to bad publicity, my advice is to avoid the Trump-style branding technique. It’s never wise to opt for negative controversy over solid, dependable good press. Cultivating a mass of engaged, loyal customers you can build an enterprise with takes more than the shock factor—it takes years of hard work and dedication to your customers. Remember why you began your business, and stay true to your original brand. Unlike Trump, you most likely don’t have a multi billion–dollar franchise supporting you if you fail!
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