Article Controversy

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Finding Your Company’s ‘Controversy Sweet Spot’
Dec 05, 2013 Research No rth America

Market ing

As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Extend the aphorism, and there is no such thing as bad controversy — especially if that controversy causes conversation. By that thinking, any buzzgenerating event, even if wrapped around something less than wholesome, should be a positive f or a company or brand looking to get some attention. But Wharton marketing prof essor Jonah Berger says that’s not the case. Instead, he has f ound that there is a limit to how much conversation can be generated by a modest amount of controversy. Increase the controversy, however, and the volume of conversation goes down — exactly the opposite of what a good brand manager wants. “T hey assume that controversy garners discussion,” he says. “We actually f ound out it’s more complicated than that.” Berger and Z oey Chen, a marketing doctoral student at the Scheller College of Business at the Georgia Institute of Technology, discuss these f indings in the paper, “When, Why, and How Controversy Causes Conversation,” published in the October edition of the Journal of Consumer Research. Berger and Chen set up a series of experiments to judge the relationship between controversy and conversation. First, they collected about 200 articles posted on, an online news resource, and coded how controversial each was using two independent raters. T hey then cataloged the number of comments each article received in its f irst 15 days online. T he initial experiment showed a correlation between controversial topics and online comments up to a moderate level of controversy — a 4.6 on a seven-point scale, to be exact. Articles with higher levels of…...

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