Various popular sayings claim that negative publicity is better than no publicity:
- there’s no such thing as bad press
- there’s no such thing as bad publicity but your own obituary (attributed to Brendan Behan)
- the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about (attributed to Oscar Wilde and Joan Crawford)
According to a recent empirical study, negative reviews can increase sales of an unknown product by increasing product awareness. Persons tend to prefer the familiar relative the unknown. A negative review’s contribution to awareness can outweigh its effect on sentiment, particularly since sentiment tends to dissipate faster than awareness.[*]
The meaning of publicity and awareness are changing with the fragmentation of mass media and the rise of personal, Internet-based communication. Mass-media publicity and awareness now do not necessarily delimit meaning. Instead, mass-media publicity and awareness may prompt Internet search and further inquiry. Bad publicity can lead some exposed person to find a much wider range of information. On the other hand, the value of mass-media awareness probably has decreased relative to search-engine findability. Publicity of the traditional sort is no longer necessary to connect with a large number of persons.
One conclusion you can count on: economic analysis will show that results depend.
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Video of Sokari Douglas Camp’s Masquerader with Boat Headdress (1987), on display at the National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC. In the Kalabari culture of Nigeria, men perform masquerade performances honoring water spirits.
[*] Jonah Berger & Alan T. Sorensen & Scott J. Rasmussen, 2010. “Positive Effects of Negative Publicity: When Negative Reviews Increase Sales,” Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 29(5), pages 815-827, 09-10. DOI: 10.1287/mksc.1090.0557