Meme Debunking #2: Publicity

I liked my post on the toxic immigration meme that I think I’m going to turn it into a series. I won’t say “regular series,” but when I come across phrases and memes that deserve a little skeptical examination, I’ll spend a little time debunking them. Consider it a paltry companion to Bronze Dog’s Doggerel series.

You know that saying “any publicity is good publicity”? People actually believe that. I see it a lot in discussions about bad comics especially: “it may be bad, but at least it has people talking.” And that sort of thing.

And yet, it’s obviously false. Painfully obviously.

Think about it this way: if there’s no such thing as bad publicity, why are there PR firms? Why does the term “damage control” exist? Why is there such a thing as spin?

When oil started pumping into the Gulf of Mexico, BP started running frequent ads championing their efforts to clean it up. When Toyota had to recall a bunch of their cars because of gas pedal problems, they released ads championing their responsibility and safety record. When GM was just coming out of a bankruptcy scare, they released ads about their stability and commitment to innovation.

If any publicity really were good publicity, would any of these companies spent so much money to contain the potential damage to their images?

It’s true that bad publicity gets people talking, and in some cases, to some degree, it might get people checking out the subject out of morbid curiosity. Hell, it’s why I saw “The Last Airbender.” But there’s a point where people aren’t just talking, they’re talking about how bad the subject is, and that has a major negative effect.

We’ve seen how bad PR has directly negatively affected vaccination rates, GMOs, High Fructose Corn Syrup, nuclear power, and various other topics under the typical skeptical purview. There’s no reason for anyone with the capacity for critical thought to believe that it’s true. So I think it’s high time we put this meme to bed–or at least subjected it to some bad publicity.

11 Responses to Meme Debunking #2: Publicity

  1. GDad says:

    Interestingly, when I was on vacation in Canada, I noticed that the nutrition information labels did not mention high fructose corn syrup. In its place was something called "liquid sugar."

  2. Techskeptic says:

    I believe that the phrase is used mostly in politics and media personalities where it is in fact often true.Glenn back, O'relly and Coulter can't get enough bad publicity because it improves their ratings. same with Brittney, every rapper, and I doubt even Mel Gibsons recent rantings have hurt him very much. Hell, Sarah Palin is making millions of her bad publicity, even our horny governor Spitzer is now a political commentator on TV.I believe the term came around from the Reagan days, where he was getting trashed in the papers and his press secretary kept thanking the papers for putting his picture in there. Perhaps it was in the campaign days. Not sure.

  3. Doubting Tom says:

    See, even there, I don't think that's necessarily true. Glenn Beck's bad publicity in particular has led to him hemorrhaging sponsors; his show has aired repeatedly in the UK with no sponsorship whatsoever because they keep pulling out over the flak they get. Obviously, he's still employed regardless, and there are people who will love him all the more despite criticism, but that bad publicity has taken a serious toll on his profitability. O'Reilly is a less extreme case, but he's certainly had to backpedal and apologize on a number of topics. Why would people do that–especially opinionated blowhards like O'Reilly who trot out the persecution card anyway–if they're not feeling the heat from some direction? Mel Gibson's rants may not necessarily cost him movie deals, I can't be sure, but Michael Richards' career certainly hasn't been anything to crow about lately. I think Sarah Palin isn't making millions off her bad publicity, she's making millions despite it. Politics is tricky, because people are polarized from the start; there's little convincing anyone of anything they don't already believe. But while there are certainly situations where any publicity is good, there's also a tipping point. Morbid curiosity only goes so far, and party loyalty goes a lot farther, but it's still not infinite. There's a reason that you don't see "The Half-Hour News Hour" anymore, and to think that bad publicity had nothing to do with it is, I think, disingenuous. Point: Sometimes any publicity is good publicity, but not all publicity is good publicity.

  4. Techskeptic says:

    yeah? Well you are fucking retarded if you disagree with me….sorry, I just got done reading your recent sarah palin post.

  5. Doubting Tom says:


  6. Bronze Dog says:

    I approve of this series concept.I really need to get back to blogging regularly. I've been in a real slump in general.

  7. Don says:

    So have we all, my friend.Though I don't think for a second that you, too, will drop the pseudonym en route to a more productive blogging career.

  8. Ryan W. says:

    As a musician, I can say that bad pub is good pub.I never have a problem with someone coming to a show to see just how terrible I am. Usually they see their notion was false.But that's obviously a different context than you were referring to.

  9. Doubting Tom says:

    See, but even that isn't always true; just look at Milli Vanilli. In fact, I think the only place this phrase might be generally true is in televangelism and other woo-woo. Peter Popoff was debunked decades ago, Kevin Trudeau has been repeatedly fined and convicted, but they still make money. In some cases, it's that the bad publicity is seen as persecution and silencing; in some cases it's that the bad publicity isn't publicized enough; but I think in most cases it's that the public has a short memory in those areas. In which case it's not so much "any publicity is good publicity," it's "wait long enough, and the publicity won't matter."

  10. Don says:

    Okay, but then how do you explain Nickelback?

  11. Doubting Tom says:

    No accounting for taste, I guess. But the worst publicity Nickelback has gotten is that they have fewer fans than a pickle on Facebook. When Chad Kroeger gets caught with child pornography, then we can talk about publicity; shitty music isn't bad publicity in and of itself. That being said, I think Nickelback is the Greg Land of pop-rock. They copy grunge styles from fifteen goddamn years ago, use lyrics cribbed from angsty LiveJournal poetry, and feed it back to the masses with Kroeger's growl because they know it's exactly what their target audience wants.

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