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“Study the top stories at Digg or MSN.com and you’ll notice a pattern: the top stories all polarize people. If you make it threaten people’s 3 Bs — behavior, belief or belongings — you get a huge virus-like dispersion.” – Timothy Ferriss

Many companies have recently taken a public stand on their values, and polarized the marketplace using the three Bs. They created divides on controversial issues, which in turn created buzz, generated interest and — most importantly — gave their real advocates reason to believe in the brand. But is this really that bad?

A strong brand knows who its customers are and caters to them and their worldviews. It builds a tribe around those values and enables its customers to spread the word and grow its market share. But what if those values go against the more recent movements for change?

In the wake of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, Abercrombie took a stand against catering to all body types. Abercrombie was judged by the masses because of the seven-year-old words of its CEO. More recently, the leader of Barilla, the Italian pasta-maker, stood by his strong family values, stating that his company believes in the traditional family (man, woman and child).

Outrage ensued in both of these instances. The equal rights groups affected by these stances spoke up and called for boycotts. However, that didn’t necessarily change the companies’ points of view. It’s likely that despite the outrage from one side, the side that believes in those values (in an extreme way or quietly) continued to buy the company’s products and buy them proudly, with the knowledge that the brand supports their kind of values.

That certainly was the case with Kenneth Cole. KC has been known to throw out blatantly controversial posts on social media like his recent tweet about Syria.


When the shocked and awed on the Internet spoke up, so did KC’s stock price and e-commerce sales. Discussing his apologies for these tweets, Kenneth Cole was quoted as saying, “I’m not even sure I used the words I’m sorry—because I wasn’t sorry.“ Are you surprised?

Perhaps you shouldn’t be. Even in an industry where jerks aren’t so prominent and shock-and-awe PR happens infrequently, the benefits of some polarization still remain.” Some the best-selling beer in the world turns up its nose at the more recent craft beer innovations. Germany has been making beer the same way for more than 490 years with only four ingredients! While Belgian and American craft breweries add fruits extracts and spices to their beers, Germany proudly creates a vast variety of beer with strict guidelines of water, grains, sugar cane and yeast.  German beer customers truly love the product for its values, while other customers couldn’t care less. Many of these beers are held in high regard amongst beer drinkers, and German beer drinkers proudly stand by their beers.

While not all issues are on the line of moral, ethical, legal or otherwise, there is still something to be said for sticking by your brand values. It can clearly have a positive effect on your business’ bottom line. Only time will tell whether the jerk strategy comes with a long-term benefit.

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