Is The Era Of ‘All Publicity Is Good Publicity’ Over?

Is The Era Of ‘All Publicity Is Good Publicity’ Over?

In her latest post for B&T, 3 Phase Marketing’s Marnie Vinall (pictured below) argues that in the digital age, there’s little benefit to be had when the reviews turn sour…

According to Cambridge Dictionary, the saying ‘any publicity is good publicity’ or ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ is said to emphasise that it is better that something receives bad publicity than no publicity at all. But in 2019, is this really still the case?


The phrase is rumoured to have first been said in the 19th century by American showman and circus owner Phineas T.Barnum. The notion also follows sentiment suit of Oscar Wilde’s famous quote, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about”.

This may have been true in the days where consumer’s options were more limited than they are today. The digital evolution had yet to spiral into the giant it now is and consumers favoured convenience and price-point of a product or service far over its social and environmental values and impact. But the world has changed since then and along with it, how consumers choose where to spend their money and who on.

Today, bad publicity for a brand can put nails in its coffin. Companies can see unrecoverable down falls from PR nightmares where bad publicity really is bad publicity.

Take business partners Kyle Stagoll and Dave Nelson who recently closed their sushi-pizza restaurant in Surry Hills, Sydney, after having the business go into liquidation with debts of $436,000. As reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, the pair blamed the business going bust just three months after opening on high wages, high rents, a slowdown in consumer spending and UberEats.

Stagoll was quoted in the article saying, “Does that mean hospo workers are drastically over paid for the value they produce for a business? Probably.” To this, the pair received a mammoth about of backlash online. There was many news and opinion pieces circulating just hours after the SMH piece went live, slamming the pair for blaming their downfall on having to pay their workers correctly and not on the fact that they sold sushi-pizza. A potentially under researched idea before implementation – at best.

Overnight, the two names which no one outside their friends, family and employees knew, now were being condemned in the public eye and their reputation in the hospitality industry took a massive hit – potentially one they wouldn’t recover from. Now, if they wanted to get a loan to open a new place, or form partnerships to grow their business, they are going to have a lot more trouble than if nobody knew who they were.

Socially conscious consumers

When it comes to products and services, consumers have more choice than ever before, meaning they can buy with their values along with their budgets and preferences. If a brand is slammed in the media for poor working conditions, their customer-base can pretty easily jump ship to their competitors without too much hassle or thought.

In 2017, beauty brand giant Nars saw many of their existing customers boycott the company after it introduced animal testing on its make-up in order to sell in China. After the announce, the brand saw a wave of criticism and an e-petition to see the company stop selling in China, which racked up close to 250,000 signatures.

BBC UK reported that a previous fan wrote online, “Guess I just won’t be buying Nars anymore. Animal lives are more important than reaching another market.”

Consumers could easily make the choice to stop buying Nars because the competition and choice of similar products to what the brand makes is so high. The bad publicity meant that once loyal customers were changing their alliance based on their personal values.

With the rise and spread of information across the web, when brands take a PR hit like this one, they don’t just get increased mentions online and added brand awareness, they lose their customer base.

Nowadays, brands aren’t just competing with the consumer on price point and product, but also the brand and products social, environmental or political impacts.

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Marnie Vinall

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