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The Wonderful Commercial Potential of Negative PR

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There’s bad PR, worse PR, and horrid horrid PR (which can actually work out pretty well).

The PR reporters are foaming at the mouth regarding Red Bull’s recent legal troubles. An $85 million wrongful death lawsuit is being brought against the company claiming that one of their drinks caused a heart attack in a 33 year old Brooklyn man. Red Bull responded with a standard corporate statement that affirmed the safety of their product, as well as its widespread uneventful usage.

Should Red Bull be worried that the adverse publicity could affect sales? In a word: no. If anything, they might even see a boost in their sales. The reason for this is due to the nature of the Red Bull consuming public: generally younger people, often male, who are looking for a “special” boost. This is not a demographic that is concerned for extreme safety issues. Quite the opposite in fact. “You mean this actually dropped somebody?” (appropriately long pause) “Cool.”

This brings to mind Dennis Leary’s epic rant regarding cigarette warning labels.
It doesn’t matter how big the warnings on the cigarettes are; you could have a black pack, with a skull and crossbones on the front, called TUMORS, and smokers would be around the block going, “I can’t wait to get my hands on these f…ing things! I bet ya get a tumor as soon as you light up!”

This notion, attraction from a negative direction, actually has basis in scientific fact. Martin Lindstrom writes about his lab experiments in this area:

A brain-imaging experiment I conducted in 2006 explains why antismoking scare tactics have been so futile. I examined people’s brain activity as they reacted to cigarette warning labels by using functional magnetic resonance imaging, a scanning technique that can show how much oxygen and glucose a particular area of the brain uses while it works, allowing us to observe which specific regions are active at any given time. …the warning labels backfired: they stimulated the nucleus accumbens, sometimes called the craving spot, which lights up on f.M.R.I. whenever a person craves something, whether it’s alcohol, drugs, tobacco or gambling.

In my own experience, I remember once looking on Amazon for an extreme pogo stick to give as a gift. One of the top reviews for the product was clearly written by a marketing pro. It attempted to emulate a teenage boy’s writing style, and it was a laughingly lame attempt. However, the content of the review was actually quite interesting. It focused on how the “reviewer” let one of his “friends” use it and the friend seriously hurt himself. (Of course, this was relayed in a “ha-ha” tone.) The marketing pro who wrote this piece obviously understood that a pogo stick so good it was dangerous would attract a young male market.

For our current imbroglio, Red Bull will most probably be found safe. Millions of cans have been consumed with very little indication of any negative health effects. But hey – a little horrid publicity can’t hurt.

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