Have you ever heard the cliché, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity?” This philosophy has been widely circulated in the PR world. The idea is that as long as the public is talking about you, it will be of benefit, regardless of what they are saying. No matter how much negative publicity you or your company may be getting, it’s actually good publicity, because you will remain relevant and in the public eye.
There are times when this proves to be the case. Back in 1985, Coca Cola changed their product to make it sweeter, christening it the “New Cola.” Unfortunately, they received a massive amount of bad press following this change, including thousands and thousands of complaints. In response, they reverted to the original, branding it Coca-Cola Classic. This got so much attention that a popular TV show was even interrupted to announce the news, resulting in a drastic rise in sales for the company.
But cases like this are really the exception, not the rule. In practice, the idea that all publicity is good publicity really doesn’t make sense.
Take BP for example. No company wants to be the target of publicity about a disastrous oil spill. This event resulted in boycotts which decreased their sales, and an ongoing publicity nightmare, which even included a BP oil spill Halloween costume. All this media attention damaged the company. They had to spend millions on a positive publicity campaign.
Another example is Seaworld, whose reputation was tarnished when the “Blackfish” documentary revealed grim living conditions for Orca whales there. This publicity caused their sales to drop by a whopping 84%, and they had to spend millions on a PR campaign to rebuild their image.
Try asking Tiger Woods how he feels about negative publicity. The famous golf pro has virtually disappeared from the public eye ever since he became a subject of scandal. The negative press caused him to lose important sponsors like Accenture and AT&T. In this case, the publicity was definitely not beneficial to Tiger.
The media is saturated with other examples of harmful publicity similar to those listed here. As you can see, not all publicity is good publicity. Negative media attention can seriously damage a company or an individual. While it’s often possible to recover, such damage can linger for a very long time.
So what do you think? Is there such a thing as bad publicity?