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Can Controversy be Good?

May 19, 2015

There was a trending news story recently that got me wondering about the possible expediency of controversy in social media marketing. It was, in my honest opinion, a pretty stupid story. The USA Today headline described it thusly: “Vermont restaurant fried by bacon ad backlash.”

What happened was that the restaurant, Sneakers Bistro and Café, placed a sign at a crosswalk to advertise their establishment. It said, “Yield for Sneakers Bacon.” This prompted complaints from one self-described vegan and member of the local Muslim community. The restaurant very graciously removed the sign, only to face even greater protest from the bacon-obsessed denizens of the internet.

While this all seems very silly, I’m not sure that it’s accurate to say that Sneakers was “fried” by the backlash. The restaurant is now nationally famous for nothing more than putting up and then taking down a sign. And as the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

I’m sure this incident was completely accidental, but I wonder how a local social media company might have handled it. For the record, I don’t think any Los Angeles social media company should court controversy. But if one person raises an arguably unjustified protest over an advertisement, is it better to ignore it, or to respond graciously, subtly promote the issue on social media, and hope that other, similarly over-sensitive types make your business famous for a day as a result?

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