Can “bad publicity” actually help our business?

Can “bad publicity” actually help our business?


“I have just started a craft beer company with my partner. In keeping with the nature of the category, we’re looking at adopting a risqué marketing strategy (essentially, causing trouble) to get our brand noticed. I know it’s been said that no publicity is bad publicity, but I have seen brands ruined because of bad PR. What are the risks here?” 

This is a great question, and one that every small business owner should ask very early on. For most of us, the short answer is ‘avoid it’, but others stand to gain massively from a well-considered, controversial campaign.

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To fully understand where your company fits in, you need to consider the most important factors in the context of those who have succeeded and failed:

What does your company do?

If you’re a nice guy selling craft beer from a smallholding on the west coast, you have a lot more leeway than a multinational oil company currently drilling into every major ocean floor. When you spill your beer, people will laugh and offer a hand. If BP spills their oil, well that’s a different story.

What does your brand stand for?

As a new company in an ‘anti-establishment’ category of the market, you can position your brand wherever you want. You could be anything from the only ‘mainstream’ craft beer (the anti-hipster beer for hipsters) or swim upstream like the rest of them. The point is, either way your positioning can be fairly radical.

A great example to learn from is one that usually springs to mind. Nando’s is at home in the headlines and comfortable with controversy. It makes fun of public figures and speaks the truth to the point where adverts are banned and they get in trouble. This only makes us love them more, because the brand inherently stands for something good. It’s a confident troublemaker with a heart of gold.

Not every brand is this fortunate. Most financial service providers feel the need to represent austerity or some other draconian trait because of the products they offer.

Who will the consumer support?

During the 2010 World Cup, the bullies at FIFA started hassling our friends at Kulula. They forced them to pull an advert because Kulula dared to mention “soccer” at a time when only FIFA’s partners had the right to do so.

Kulula’s response was brilliant. By nearly crossing the line they were able to stand up to the big bad wolf and make the brand a hero for everyone that FIFA had upset. It just so happened there were quite a lot of us.

As a craft beer, you’re likely to be competing – to a very small degree – for the market share of a margin-hungry profit machine that’s trying to take over the world.

If they sued you for such a noble undertaking, I know a lot of people who would drink your Salty Snail Pale Ale in solidarity with the cause. This level of controversy might even elevate your brand into some of the least accessible hipster bars in the country.

Ultimately it comes down to a combination of these factors. If you’re in the right industry, your brand has goodness at heart and you are fighting the good fight, then you will win the support of the people you’re looking out for.

And that’s all you want for your brand.

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James Bisset
James Bisset is the Creative Director at Lima Bean – a full service agency from a digital background. He has built his career off the belief that, in the future, brands will have to demonstrate their humanity in order to achieve growth and success. Email or visit