Nothing succeeds like excess

This is an article by Ben Frith.
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Ben Frith

In light of a recent event where Jeremy Clarkson voiced his opinion regarding the public sector strikes, one question has been crossing my mind: does controversy sell? I think that the answer is yes.

Clarkson made an appearance on BBC One’s ‘The One Show’ on Wednesday 30th November to promote his upcoming DVD and sparked controversy when, in response to the presenters’ questions regarding the recent strike over pensions, he stated:

“I’d have them [the strikers] all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean, how dare they go on strike when they’ve got these gilt-edge pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living.”

This comment has since received over 31,000 complaints, despite countless apologies from the BBC and Clarkson himself claiming his remarks were just a ‘joke’. I’d like to know whether this was a genuine accident or whether the ‘stunt’ was planned beforehand in an attempt to generate interest around Clarkson and, ultimately, to sell more DVDs.

The death of Michael Jackson is another apt example of how controversy sells. After his untimely and suspicious death in June 2009, it could be argued that Jackson’s posthumous career has matched that when he was alive. When news of his death surfaced on the internet, his album sales shot through the roof and occupied the top 15 spots on Amazon’s bestsellers list and over 1 million copies of his songs were bought online. Would this have happened if it wasn’t for his sudden death and the controversy that the media generated around it? Probably not.

Buzz sells

The same could be argued of Amy Winehouse, as sales of her second studio album, Back to Black, increased 37-fold following the young artist’s death earlier this year. Before her sudden passing, Winehouse’s albums had fallen out of the charts, but as soon as news of her death leaked online her albums occupied top spots across the country. Why, you ask? I think this is because ‘buzz’ sells – hype around a certain celebrity, or business, definitely improves sales of their products.

I understand why some public figures and companies might use controversy as a form of promotion, because the more that people talk about your product, the more you’re likely to sell, right? But this leads to questions about whether such tactics should be used in business and whether there should be regulations regarding how businesses are allowed to promote their products. This would obviously be difficult to control in terms of live broadcasts, but should there be set punishments when controversy, especially when it has offended many people, is blatantly used to generate more sales?

Although some would call it distasteful and sometimes downright horrible, I believe that with or without punishment, controversy will continue to be used in promotion. If controversy creates hype around a product and improves sales, I don’t think businesses, especially those that are well established and powerhouses in a specific field would think twice about receiving a small fine if it means their sales soar.


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