Intentional Controversy: Information Age Marketing Tactics

“The school system is teaching people to be poor. The school system will never teach you about money.”

“The government tells us what we can teach and what we can’t teach.”

These quotes come from Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad Poor Dad, in an interview he did with London Real.

Decisive claims, like those above, feed controversy, prompting large groups of people to respond. Readers, teachers, government officials, and worried parents of children in public schools will hear these quotes, share clips from the interview, and either defend them or argue with them.

A marketer’s job is to spread awareness of a product or service. But, in the Information Age, that job takes less effort. Instead of creating all the necessary marketing content themselves, a marketer can create a movement that gets readers to attract other potential readers.

The ease of information exchange has created a social ecosystem full of words, images, and videos. People react to books they love, or books that make them mad. They will join a conversation about what they are passionate about, so controversy around a title is good for attracting true fans and for attracting those vehemently opposed to the content. Both will buy the book.

Quotes like those above were successful in promoting Rich Dad Poor Dad when it was published in 1997 because some people disagreed with Kiyosaki and others agreed. Joe Biel, the founder and CEO of Microcosm Publishing, discusses Kiyosaki’s controversy in The People’s Guide to Publishing. According to Biel, “Kiyosaki explained that his publicity strategy for the book was to intentionally make divisive statements and create controversy around his work. He explains that you want 33 percent of people aware of your work to love it, 33 percent to hate it, and 33 percent to be indifferent. He insists that the strategy of making public statements to elicit reactions, creating controversy by sharing polarizing opinions, and being prepared for public media appearances will drive your work to the correct audiences.”

Another example is the publicly challenged children’s picture book And Tango Makes Three, published in 2005 about two male penguins raising an orphaned chick in New York’s Central Park Zoo. According to “Banned Books Week Library Guide: Defining Banned/Challenged Books,” a challenge on a book is “an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.”

Since 2005, And Tango Makes Three has appeared on the list of challenged books almost every year. In 2009 it made Amazon’s best seller charts. The top complaints about the book, according to the ALA are, “homosexuality” and “unsuited for age group.”

If I was discussing the possibility of purposefully fueling controversy within a marketing meeting, the major caveat I would bring up is personal belief. The opinions and mission of the publisher and author should inform every statement made about a book. Kiyosaki made statements he believed in to fuel controversy. He was excited for the believers and disbelievers alike because he’d have a chance to change readers’ minds and provide legitimacy to proponents of financial education.

Mean what you say, but if what you say is controversial, you’ll have a better chance of building a big audience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.