Thursday, August 30, 2012

Shunning: Try it, it works.

"Bic "Lady" pens unleash Amazon snarkfest" says Washington Post headlines today. "Bic is being trolled hard by fake Amazon reviews, and it’s brought them that unique combination of shame and free publicity that only an Internet prank can achieve."

Prank?  I think not.  I have long understood that advertisers on purpose create ad campaigns that seem on the surface to be gigantic errors but in fact are well crafted calculations of risk. They know that the absolute worst thing that could happen to any business is shunning but they also know that in this day of social media, people absolutely *must* rush to comment/review/defend - and the "outrage" provides free name recognition that any less risky/controversial advertising wouldn't.

You might not buy a Lady Bic, but I bet the Bic label will jump out at you when you look at pens, now.  You'll want to see what those Lady Bics look like if nothing else.  See?  It worked.

Social media is a great tool for this kind of calculated on-purpose negative advertising.  People with good intentions post shocking image after image, comment after comment, and in doing so the nasty stuff gets lots of free publicity. Do-gooders think that their postings and clever comments will somehow motivate people to act against the issue, but I'm pretty sure that's more than evenly balanced by the voyeurs who really appreciate the ugly photos, and the people who have been newly introduced by the do-gooders to the nastiness and who can now embrace it themselves.

Various entities have long used negative advertising successfully. Environmental groups provide a superb example: They have raised the fear level so high that they support themselves (their board members) very well, while never doing any actual environmental work. Their negative advertising - like with other entities, such as religion and government - has created such a general fear in the population that people will believe what they are told in direct contradiction to what their own senses and non-biased history and fact tell them.

You can't fight city hall

That's what they say, and it's true. You can't fight the people with that much money/power. But oh, baby, you have a super power that will slap them dead if you will just use it: The power of shunning.  

Social rejection is the worst thing that can happen in human society - individuals who are shunned can suffer severe psychological damage from it, and groups can wither away to nothing from it.  Social media rejection is death to business.  

Shunning has been part of human strategy since cave-man time, because it works.  Paying attention to something feeds it, withdrawing attention from - shunning - starves it, whether it's a human being, a business, an organization or a political entity, and whether the attention is in the form of money, time, effort or, well, just plain attention.  

Be careful what you shun, though.  Make sure your target is right on.  For example, if you shun well, you don't pass around photos of a football player's torn-up dogs; instead you shun the man himself, the team that supports him and the organizations that supposedly are created to prevent animal abuse that didn't act.  

Shunning isn't just doing nothing - they pay advertising companies big bucks to entice you and they're very, very good at it.  They prey on human curiosity and they taint it with fear, so you can't not look, not if you want to be safe.  Curiosity and fear:  two basic components of human survival tactics that are hard-wired into us all.  Doesn't mean we can't overcome it, of course, but it does mean effort.  Shunning is actually harder to do than you'd think, but it works, oh yes it truly does.
As for Bic Lady pens?  Amazon keeps track of hits on their pages and if they get lots of hits they'll keep supporting that kind of advertising.  Bic, too, will know that their negative-advertising ploy has worked.  If you succumb to the desire to read the snarky reviews, you'll be part of the problem, not the solution.  Try shunning the Amazon Lady Bic pen and it will just fade away.  Honest - shunning works, but only if you actually do it.

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