Does Controversy Really Spark Conversation?

Controversy legend

Controversy legend (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Marketers/Advertising execs beware. While there are many voices advocating for controversy in order to create ripple effects in marketing, researchers Zoey Chen and Jonah Berger found that controversies are not necessarily more likely to be discussed. To be precise, controversy increases likelihood of discussion at low levels, but beyond a moderate level of controversy, additional controversy actually decreases likelihood of discussion.
This goes for big publicity stunts (twerking anybody?) and tweets alike. Anything that is likely to draw attention to itself or the effects thereof are of controversial value and marketers have to also weigh the value of what they are creating and the extent to which they will go (costs involved) to generate that controversy, amongst other factors that include ethics, morals, which may seem to be at ends with their drive to create the “WOW” factor.
In their research, Chen and Berger found that the controversy-conversation relationship is driven by two countervailing processes. One, controversy increases interest which naturally increases the likelihood of discussion. On the same page, this increases the level of discomfort experienced by those who are discussing the controversy, which also decreases the likelihood of discussion.
Their research is published in the Journal of Consumer Research Vol 40, Issue 3.

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