Controversy Sells, Sells, Sells!
“In its first month on sale, A New Kind of Christianity, the latest book from Brian McLaren, has lit the fuses of critics in the Christian press and blogosphere. Reviewers, bloggers, and prominent evangelicals have called him a heretic and worse,” as reported by Publishers Weekly. His latest work is divisive and debated because McLaren questions conventional truths and calls for a major overhaul of the Christian faith. But the book is selling – well. His publisher, HarperOne, did an initial print run of 50,000 copies and went out with 25,000 copies in the first few weeks, with reorders filing in.
Brian McLaren isn’t the first author to stir controversy and he certainly won’t be the last. Several classics like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, and more recently The Da Vinci Code have all sparked controversy – for violence, racism or extreme political and religious views – and all sold millions of copies (The Da Vinci Code sold 80 million copies as of 2009). See a running list of the ten most controversial books: http://www.dirjournal.com/info/ten-of-the-most-controversial-books/.
Controversy sells. And not just controversial books, anything controversial: movies, ideas, music, clothes, opinions, even people. Last month, the rage was Glenn Beck as he stirred the pot with his comments on social justice. The liberal media had a field day with his comments, but Beck’s nightly following is currently up 50% from last year with 2.3 million viewers. Could his missile comments be causing more people to tune in? I believe so.
What does this mean for your message and brand? Not everyone should make their message intentionally controversial. But truth be told, most messages are controversial in and of themselves because there are always opposing views. For example, something as basic as coffee can be controversial: some people hate coffee and prefer tea; people could argue whether Starbucks, Tully’s, Seattle’s Best, or Dunkin Donuts has the best coffee; and of course the temperature of the coffee (remember the incident several years ago where a customer sued McDonald’s for the coffee being too hot and it became national news?!)
I think it is human nature to want to debate, argue, even disagree. On the positive side, it can cause people to consider what they believe. You may want to create a little ‘heat’ with your brand/message and give opponents food for thought in the midst of your message. Know that if you do, you’ll reach more people – but you also may anger a few in the process.