To make compelling social media content brands must be willing to lose control

Thanks to the growth of social media, it’s never been easier to connect with your brand’s fans – those lovely advocates who are just itching to tell you how much they love you. Good for the corporate ego and relatively cheap to manage. Pats on the back all round for a job well done.

But how much talkability are you really creating when you spend your time preaching to the choir? Sometimes, it’s better to court a little negative publicity if you really want to be on everyone’s lips.

The film studios have always understood the value of reverse psychology. They know how to bait the tabloids with controversial subject matter and then wait for the usual suspects to declare their disgust – drumming up some useful outrage that can be turned into great poster quotes.

David Cronenberg’s infamous film Crash would probably have disappeared under everyone’s radar, had the Daily Mail not had such a Pavlovian response to its release.

Over the years, the ‘Ban This Sick Filth’ proposition has been devalued to such a degree that it’s now more of an ironic T-shirt slogan than a viable editorial position.

Still, it’s nice to see Thorpe Park benefiting from this nostalgic viewpoint as the promotion for its new attraction, Saw: Alive, gets into full swing. Based on the stomach churning movie series, this maze-style interactive experience is a chamber of horrors for the 21st century, boasting more bodily disfigurement than Katie Price’s scrapbook.

Obviously, a gruesome, torture-filled gorefest won’t be to everyone’s taste, but those who like things that go barf in the night shouldn’t be too disappointed.

The tabloid reaction has been one of predictable outrage, with the red-tops quick to bring in child psychologists to decry this latest affront to the innocence of youth. Interestingly though, not one of these experts mentioned the fact that children have been experiencing similarly revolting displays at the London Dungeon for over thirty years – without any worrying side effects, except maybe the occasional lost lunch. In fact, one of its current attractions is the fun-filled Noose Drop “which seeks to emulate the experience of the sudden drop of a hanging”. That creepy sound you can hear is Ruth Ellis laughing ironically from beyond the grave.

Back in the 1950s, B-movie director William Castle used simple PR stunts and deliberate bad publicity to ensure that horror fans lined up around the block for every schlockbuster he released. In 1958 he even offered a $1,000 life insurance policy for the first customer to die of fright whilst watching his ‘masterpiece’ Macabre. Needless to say, the cheque went uncashed.

Deployed correctly, these seemingly simple tactics can be deployed effectively to drive awareness and entice the right audience into your house of horrors. The key is to control the management of the story, rather than allowing the journalists to jump to their own conclusions. Thorpe Park could have fielded their own expert opinions and provided the papers with a ready-made story – without the need for any reference to the corruption of youth.

Maybe there’s something in that old adage about ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ after all. But it takes a bold brand and a confident PR team to reach out to those badvocates and engage them in the discussion.

In the world of earned media, we have to relinquish control of the conversation and recognise the value of our critics in sustaining our place in the public consciousness.

Close your eyes and fall back – your real fans will always be there to catch you.

Gareth Dimlow writes his own blog at and Gareth is a senior creative strategist at Jack Morton Worldwide.

Creative Moment Awards 2020