Is it better to be notorious or famous? by Roz Usheroff

Amys Baking Company

There is an old saying, one with which we are all familiar, that proclaims that any publicity – even bad, is good.

While I have always naturally bristled at the suggestion that bad press is somehow helpful to a brand’s image, there are surprisingly, circumstances where the above premise holds true.

Take for example the findings from a study by Stanford University School of Business economics professor Alan Sorenson.

In 2011 Sorenson analyzed the impact that reviews in the New York Times had on the sale of new books.  According to the study, a good review would generate a 42% increase in sales, while a negative review would cause a drop in sales of 15%.  But here’s the thing, Sorenson also indicated that for unknown authors it did not matter whether a book was “panned or lauded.”  Just by having a review in the Times increased sales of the book by 33%.

Sorenson went on to suggest that this same principle also applied in the business world.  Specifically, and for smaller brands fighting for recognition in crowded markets any publicity, even bad, was beneficial.  His reasoning is that for “lesser known brands,” the negative perceptions associated with bad press fade quickly, leaving only a “general awareness” of the company.  Basically what this means is that the bad press actually put the company on the map, without having a negative impact on its products or services.  Ironically, the same does not hold true for established or known brands.

This contradictory message was further driven home when I came across an article regarding the infamous Amy’s Baking Company.

The Scottsdale establishment that is owned by Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, was thrust into the spotlight on one of the more memorable television episodes of Kitchen Nightmares.

It was the only restaurant from which the irrepressible Gordon Ramsay walked away, citing the insurmountable difficulties he encountered when dealing with the mercurial owners.  This included Mrs. Bouzaglo’s erratic behavior in which she arbitrarily fired countless employees within a relatively short period of time for imagined insubordination and, berated customers who complained about the food – which was obviously bad.

Here we are a year later, and not only is the restaurant still open, but they are now selling t-shirts and hats commemorating some of the more “memorable” moments from a show that went from bad to worse in front of a global audience.  In reading the most recent customer reviews – which range between terrible and fantastic – there is one common theme; as bad as it was, the Ramsay show actually created a buzz surrounding Amy’s Baking Company.  So it would appear that Sorenson’s assertion that even bad publicity for an otherwise unknown brand is a good thing, was on the mark.

Said buzz notwithstanding, what is the answer to the bigger question is it better to be notorious or famous? 

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In recounting the overwhelming success of a New York-based micro brewery’s advertising campaign in the 1960s, Dr. John Tantillo expressed his amazement at how stores carrying the brew could not keep the product on the shelves.  Unfortunately, and as Dr. Tantillo would go on to point out, the beer tasted horrible and before long the company was out of business.

What this tells me is that notoriety may open doors, but in the end what endures, what makes a brand famous, is the quality of its product or service.  This does not mean that you do not have to look for ways to get on the public’s radar screen.  However, the means by which you gain traction in the minds of the market or markets you want to serve should be based upon what you do for others as opposed to your own actions.

For those who have just started a business or are looking to expand their reach in terms of awareness, the real question is not one of notoriety or fame, but instead determining for what you want to be best known and remembered?

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One response to “Is it better to be notorious or famous? by Roz Usheroff”

  1. Beth North says :

    Our company, Force 5 (www.discoverforce5.com), specializes in brand development. The ‘trailing indicators’ like sales, give you something to measure, but as you rightly point out, Roz, they do not define a company’s brand.
    Leadership’s answers to three questions, define brand:
    1. Who ARE you?
    2. What do you do?
    and most importantly,
    3. Why does it matter?
    Standing out in a crowded market is an art. Many strategies will help a company succeed as a sustainable, profitable business. Developing brand is long term stuff. Delivery of strategically branded products and services is a marathon. Every company needs to be prepared to leverage opportunistic favorable or unfavorable notoriety . . . fast.

    And, companies like ours can help.

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