Could Rolling Stone’s Boston Bomber Cover Be a Smart Marketing Move?

Could Rolling Stone’s Boston Bomber Cover Be a Smart Marketing Move?

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The cover of the August issue features Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, otherwise known as “Suspect No. 2” from the horrific bombing of this year’s Boston Marathon. The tagline under his photo reads, “The Bomber. How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster.”

A social media storm

The controversial cover has caused an uproar, particularly over social media – it’s been trending on Twitter – and the blogosphere. And rightly so. Readers are used to seeing musicians, politicians and pop-culture icons glorified on the cover. Not alleged murderers. Not usually, anyway.

The April bombings in Boston killed three people and left more than 250 others injured, some seriously. The tragedy gripped the attention of the entire country and the world, and emotions surrounding the incidents are still raw.

Making Tsarnaev the cover subject was sure to draw attention. After all, the front cover is the magazine’s prime tool for selling issues, and is often a driver for people searching out stories online. The risk, of course, is if the negative attention from this cover causes any of the magazine’s advertisers pull out. Additionally, CVS, Cumberland Farms and a number of other stores have decided not to sell the issue on their newsstands.

On RollingStone.com, the editors published this note about the cover story:

Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens.

Controversy creates communication

Rolling Stone is no stranger to controversial covers. In June 1970, the magazine did a cover story on the murders orchestrated by Charles Manson. In 1980, it published a cover featuring Yoko Ono and a naked John Lennon. In 1993, it published a cover featuring a topless Janet Jackson with a pair of hands covering her breasts.

 

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For entrepreneurs, associating your brand with a controversial subject can be risky business. Young start-ups can have a hard time bouncing back after a spout of negative attention.

But like it or not, the cover of the latest issue of Rolling Stone has accomplished at least one thing: We’re all talking about Rolling Stone.

Jason Fell
Jason Fell is the technology editor of Entrepreneur.com in New York City. Previously, he served as online news editor of Foliomag.com, the online arm of Folio: magazine. He also worked as a staff writer for Soundings magazine and a reporter with the Journal Register Company of newspapers. Email him at jfell@entrepreneur.com. You can follow him on Twitter @jwfell.