Article by Pritish Nandy in TOI - source
“Many of us knew of Arthur Andersen, the global consulting firm. But when it broke up and morphed into Accenture, not many made the exact connection. The connection was made on that fateful day when the media decided to out Tiger Woods for his sexual transgressions. Suddenly all the brands he had endorsed, from Accenture to Nike, made it to the headlines of every newspaper, with eager readers panting to find out who drops him first. A golfer worth a billion dollars is not the worlds most loved person, however much he may be admired. But this columns not about celebrity hunting.Its about controversy. The power of controversy.
Nothing builds a brand quicker than controversy. The uglier the controversy,the more profitable its outcome. You can ask me why this happens in a world where we are always taught to sidestep trouble,walk the straight and narrow. The reasons simple: Controversy polarises opinion. When public opinions polarised on any issue,be it Tiger Woods or MNIK, Raj Thackeray or Mayavati, Husain or Bt Brinjal, it immediately grabs headlines. You cant help but notice it. In fact,everyone notices it and then,thanks to the net,everyone reads up everything on it. No amount of paid publicity can ever achieve the phenomenal reach controversy delivers. A broken theatre and a few torn hoardings can give an unbearably boring film screaming front page coverage for days on end,and fans a righteous cause to fight for. Yes,it was the Sena that made MNIK such a success. There was little buzz about its promotions till Saamna attacked it and SRK cleverly turned the table on them.
This brings me to the smart art of conflict management. Take an issue,any issue. Instead of spending a fortune on putting out your point of view,its much easier to design an emotionally charged controversy around it so that people can take extreme positions. Make it a clear love/hate choice and,before you know it,everyones on one side or the other. The commercial objectives will be instantly realised. Funnily,no controversy ever goes to waste. The worms in Cadbury chocolates led to Amitabh Bachchan being brought in to repair the brands image. He not only repaired the image but brought the brand back into business, stronger.
Every time consumer activists attack soft drinks,they sell more,almost as if by consumer defiance. The more we rant about transfats,the more people flock to fast food counters. Its not only the young who refuse to have health concerns forced down their throat; everyone resents being told what not to do. Any pressure exerted, be it not to see MNIK or not to drink Coke or not to eat a burger at McDonalds only helps to increase their sales. Word of mouth, an old aphorism we used in the context of movies that people saw, liked and spread the word about, no longer works. People want to make their own choice these days. A tiny movie called Thanks Maa has got rave reviews this week. Will they sell one extra ticket. Unlikely. Will the film be around in theatres long enough to reap the benefit of word of mouth publicity. Unlikely. Quality and saleability walk on divergent tracks these days.
Actually good, clean entertainment is no longer in great demand. Good, healthy,nourishing food hasnt even taken off. Brain dead cinema rules. So does wicked food. The moment you talk about wholesomeness,you drive away consumers. Good is confused with bland. It works on the same principle that Sarat Chandra (author of Devdas and Parineeta) once espoused, that the more you denigrate a woman, the more you call her immoral, the more attractive she appears to everyone else. Simple question: Would you rather spend an hour with Mother Teresa, listening to her homilies, or with Angelina Jolie risking your perfect marriage.
So lets not kid ourselves. If you have something to sell,go make such a huge controversy around it that the world stops dead in its tracks. Husains fortunes were flagging when the saffronites went for him. Tyeb, Souza, Gaitonde, even young Subodh Gupta had hijacked his best selling tag. Auction after auction saw Husain’s prices tanking. Now,post this silly controversy,hes back–right on top. Raj Thackeray followed the same strategy in politics,instigating one controversy after another,to ensure that he created a space for himself in Maharashtra politics. Its not a unique strategy. Balasaheb Thackeray, Mayavati, Jayalalitha, Mamta Banerjee, and even Sonia Gandhi used every controversy to further their political cause. Each controversy helped consolidate their presence in politics,enhanced their play. Just as Sanjay became a bigger star after Khalnayak and his stint in jail. Salman has hit a purple patch with every controversy. Saif even got a Padma Shri for riling the Bishnois.
It all goes to prove the point: If success is what you seek,go get yourself a controversy. Or else,consign your dreams to oblivion.”