Outrage-vertising – How Brands are Profiting from Your Hurt Feelings
30 August, 2015

Sigh… People on Twitter are offended by an advert again. They’re outraged in fact.

At the time of writing it’s Australian wine company Premier Estates causing the ‘rage. At the time of editing it was James Bond author Anthony Horowitz who said Idris Elba was “too street.” Earlier this week it was people who couldn’t handle the sight of a shower at Auschwitz. Outrage is fickle.

Back to Premier Estates. They’ve just launched a campaign that alludes to lady parts. It features a clunkily executed visual metaphor and some Dapper Laughs level ad copy. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not George Lois either.

“Taste the bush” says the Premier Estates lady while a half-full wine glass approximates her nether region. She knows. Premier Estates know. Dapper knows. Cue outrage.

By lunch time on the same day that everyone noticed the daft ad, the outrage playbook second phase kicked and the ASA confirmed they’d received a complaint. Someone, somewhere heroically found the motivation to submit a complaint about a wine advert. Outraged.

The thing is though, we’re being played. Outrage pays. Brands have figured out that poking the hornets’ nest, even causing genuine, seemingly reputation-destroying anger, actually makes commercial sense.

Remember Protein World and their infamous beach body ready campaign? From a sales and marketing point of view, it was a roaring success. Not only did the Advertising Standards Agency find the ad didn’t breach any single one of its guidelines, but all that huffing and puffing did something rather brilliant for the company.

Andrew Barr from digital marketing agency 10 Yetis, analysed Google ranking positions for the brand and its target keywords. The results were fascinating.

He explained in his analysis how the controversy earned Protein World a torrent of inbound links, including one from this very website.

“The big links included The HuffPo (UK), Today.com, People.com and even a crisis comms case study from a .AC.UK domain… gold-dust. Enough to give them a massive boost as the below image that we have knocked up shows.” Andy Barr, 10 Yetis.


Image credit – 10 Yetis.

Links – if you’re pondering the relevance – are key to helping a website rank in search engines for key search terms. For example, Protein World would probably want to rank highly for “weight loss powder.” People pay a lot of money to earn links, but Twitter outrage kicked off the mother of all link-building exercises and all it cost them was the price of a poster on the tube.

To put it bluntly, we all did Protein World a big favour by getting upset.

Fast forward just a few weeks and Tom Tom were at the centre of a mini outrage storm, which after numerous false dawns, eventually died on the vine. But it pricked my curiosity.

Before Twitter got its rage on, I was unaware that Tom Tom was now flogging sports watches. After Twitter got its rage on, my eyeballs had absorbed the advert probably over 100 times, due to the volume of grumpy “Tom Tom is sexist and how dare they?” responses. The cynic in me wonders if this was planned.

Just look at these two ads, side by side.


Outrageous indeed. How dare Tom Tom target women’s body image vulnerabilities in this way?

How come the ad targets men’s appetite for athletic performance but goes after women’s insecurities to flog the same product?

Oh hang on…

The outrage was unfounded. The copy and the images are interchangeable. Tom Tom are just trying to sell heart-rate monitoring wrist watches. I did not know this.

As already said, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say some evil search engine optimisation genius planned this. It’s the sort of thing Ryan Holiday admits to doing in his best-selling book Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator.

But why would a brand want lots of this kid of negative attention?

Search engines can tell when people are talking about a brand and the algorithms currently at play typically take this as a facsimile of popularity. Lots of chat roughly equates to relevance. But search engines can’t yet accurately discern between positive and negative chat. It’s all the same stuff. The outraged won’t buy the product, but Google will help other people find it a few weeks down the line.

One day soon this will change, but until Google nails sentiment analysis (it’s already well on the way), all brand citations will go into the same generic pot, meaning an avalanche of social chatter and links are a good thing.

Outragevertising isn’t even new. Alice Cooper, Tucker Max, American Apparel – all masters of shifting units and selling tickets off the back of upsetting people and now that digital outrage has been proven improve a website’s performance, expect more of the same.

Expect plenty of brands to earn links with “badly judged adverts” and then expect them to win some more with a perfectly executed response.

Just imagine if a brand could get all those juicy links and social mentions from a deliberately divisive campaign AND win hearts and minds with the perfect apology to “restore our faith in humanity.”

Outrage is the new cute. It’s what gets us sharing, commenting, linking and blogging.

Marketing and social media managers know this. They’ve figured us out. They’ll all be looking to create manageable, mini outrage storms to generate hype and build links. Manipulation of outrage is as predictable as outrage itself.

So before you rush to be the first to condemn the latest piece of clunky brand comms, think.

The best thing you can do if an advert somehow, inexplicably manages to offend you is either run and tell you mum that you got your feelings hurt, or get your own back. For every brand that pollutes your timeline, write something lovely about their competitors.

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *