The StartupNation Blog Trends, tips and real-life anecdotes from industry experts

Controversy Sells

Recently, Tempe, Arizona, restaurant, Café Boa, sparked worldwide controversy when they announced the highlight of their Easter menu; rabbit.     This shocking revelation led to over 200 stories in the media from all over the world.  From Arizona to Tokyo, people were talking; even protesting; the Arizona restaurant that was cooking the Easter Bunny for dinner.

The chef, Payton Curry, and the restaurant, became local celebrities over night.  The response from the public; from support, to outcry, was overwhelming.

Chef Payton Curry says that they did not serve rabbit on for Easter as a publicity stunt.  Because they focus on organic and local, they merely wanted to tap into food that was “in season.”  They did not anticipate that onslaught of attention that occurred because of it.

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Of course, the attention has been good for the restaurant and they are considering doing something similar again; serving deer during the winter holidays.

Controversy definitely sells because it gets people’s attention.  Think of some of the most controversial people, businesses, or campaigns that you have seen in the last few years.  Some of the first people that come to mind are radio personalities Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh.

Business owners can use controversy to draw attention to their business and ultimately increase sales.  However, this promotional strategy can be a tricky one to execute correctly.  Done well; it can exponentially increase your visibility and sales.  Done poorly, this strategy can put you out of business.

Here are 5 tips to executing a successful controversial marketing promotion.

1.         Think outside of the box.

Rabbit actually used to be a common food on American tables, and are still common in the UK and in high end restaurants.  However, the notion of eating rabbit, in conjunction with a holiday that caricaturizes rabbits as warm and fuzzy pets strikes a chord with most people.    This slight twist in the acceptable use of the rabbit is an attention getter.

2.         Go against the flow.

Voice an opinion that goes against a popular or commonly accepted way of thinking.  For example, the article;  “Stop Doing Situps; Why Crunches Don’t Work” is one of the most popular posts on Digg.com.

3.         Use a filter.

While Howard Stern can get away with saying what he thinks; most of us cannot.   Draw a line as to what is acceptable and not and stick to it.

4.         Be aware.

The attention brought by controversy can be both positive and negative.  Be aware of the legal ramifications of your statements or activities, before pulling the trigger.  Check with your legal and tax advisor.

5.         Protect yourself and your business.

Lastly, make sure that your business is properly protected by having adequate business owners insurance.   If someone sues you after getting sick from eating rabbit at dinner, or because you said the “wrong thing” you’ll want to be protected.

Controversy can be a great way to build buzz for your business; however it is not without risks.  Follow these rules for a stress-free, and successful controversial marketing promotion for your biz.

What examples of controversial marketing promotions have you seen or used?  As always, your comments are appreciated.

About the Author: Wendy Kenney

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