“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” This mantra of my childhood comes to mind anytime I post on social media. After all, I don’t want to be known only for complaining and writing about things that irk me. Or do I?
Emerging as a wellspring of social media prominence, “invective marketing” is the expression of blunt – if not exaggerated – opinions that insult or offend others and spur controversy. It’s like one fish swimming upstream, disrupting uniformity and stealing attention in a vast cyber ocean.
It’s an opportunity open to anyone, but there are a few basic rules. As pointed out in a recent Forbes article, “invectivers” begin by being notable for something; even the most simple of reasons like writing a popular blog, a stint in broadcast media or a connection to someone famous. They must be careful with who comments are directed towards, along with what is conveyed and when. The recipient must be a public figure in the news, and the message should be egregious but also contain a discernible point.
It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it works. People react by sharing the post to either trumpet outrage or show their agreement. Either way, clicks are generated, media attention is sparked and an individual who might have only been mildly notable before moves into the limelight. Of course there’s an opportunity for financial gain, too.
Look at Katie Hopkins, for example. The notoriety she has gained from being outspoken far eclipses her reputation as a contestant on the third season of The Apprentice. Her remarks about judging children by their names ignited outrage on both sides of the Atlantic, not to mention her take on Ramadan, the shooting of Michael Brown, the perks of Ebola and just about everything else she’s ever tweeted or included in her column at The Sun. The result? 265,000 Twitter followers and untold amounts of money collected in media appearance fees.
Then there’s Russell Brand, who has become known for his comments just as much as his acting. No subject, person or group is safe from the opinions he espouses, spanning from theories about who was behind 9/11 to Britney Spears being a female Christ. “A school bully and prancing millionaire” was the viral response of one individual to Brand’s stunt at Royal Bank of Scotland’s London offices in December.
Alas, attention of the masses and social media can be gained, but what is lost? Caitlin Moran’s latest book – How to Build a Girl – arrives at the same question. Perhaps Hopkins will get more followers on Twitter and Brand will sell a few additional copies of his book, but is invective marketing – being intentionally erratic and offensive – worth embracing, either personally or professionally?
The profits brought by this trend in marketing are tangible (such as spikes in followers or book sales), but they’re temporary. In the long run, invective marketing cannot be a model for sustainable growth. The public eventually turns its attention elsewhere, and the individual is remembered only for ranting and being irrelevant.
The best pursuit – and one made possible by strategic PR – is to become famous for quality and expertise. This might require more time, but it yields greater rewards, future opportunities and a position of respected authority. And that’s something nice to talk about.