Adore the haters

Last week, the PR buzz was all around Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary and his uncharacteristic mea culpa. This week, another combative consumer brand is filling up feeds across the globe: Miley Cyrus and her encounter with some of Amsterdam’s finest.

Cyrus’s ‘outrageous’ awards ceremony performances are fast becoming a fixture in our lives. Regular, horrifying and compelling, they scratch an itch that some cultures tended to with a vestal virgin, a serrated knife and some geometric architecture. It seems as if Cyrus doesn’t do something a bit ‘youth culture’ every week, usually at a three-letter award ceremony you’ve never heard of before, the sun will cease to rise. This time, for those pretending they don’t read MailOnline, she lit up what appeared to be a joint during a performance at the EMAs on Sunday.

Props to the pixies behind her – it was well thought through. Where twerking with Robin Thicke was calculated to rile up the world’s lefties, this latest stunt taps into the grand old tradition of fuddy-duddy moral panic.

I don’t know if you could detect it, but in that last paragraph, the stress was on the word old. As in really old. Old enough for references that seem old even for me. Everything is different, and everything is the same. True, the sheer number of such stunts that’s required of a modern popstar, enslaved as they are to the twitter agenda, would probably have buried past hellraisers from Jerry Lee Lewis to Cyndi Lauper. Otherwise, however, the song remains very much the same; keep your boy or girl in the public eye at all cost. The music industry doesn’t hold much store by ‘sentiment trackers’ and the rest of it.

There’s a lesson here. Lord knows the entertainment world has made a lot of mistakes, but its greatest weapon has always been the power of hate to drive a brand. By hate, I don’t mean frustration, or a feeling of betrayal – those will sink a brand quicker than you can say New Coke. Good old fashioned hate is actually quite close to love. It is all consuming, and it drives everything else out of the mind of the average consumer.

Businesses should learn from this. In a world defined by antitrust and corporate transparency, it’s tempting to think there’s no longer a place for hate. O’Leary certainly did – he threw away all the cheeky charm of his airline last week when he claimed that he wanted customers to love him. Rather than worrying about looking friendly, he should be looking at the (nearly) 81m passengers who’ve used his airline in past twelve months and feel confident. Payday lender Wonga, too, had an attempt at rebranding backfire on them when a whitewashing video they’d commissioned drew scathing writeups from journalists.

What I always preach is that you shouldn’t strive for ‘like’. If love is within your reach, by all means go for it. If it isn’t, however, it’s better to be despised than tolerated. People often come running back to the brand that did them wrong, leaving the nice guys in the dust. And, if nothing else, it can be much more fun.

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