At the beginning of the week my wife likes to watch the anthropological study called The Bachelor. Inevitably, I get sucked in. This week the show did a Q&A with all the ladies who got dumped. However, the directors spent an incredible amount of time focusing on one topic: "the greatest scandal in Bachelor history." (For those unaware, one of the female contestants hooked up with a show producer and was booted from the game show -- yes, it's a game show.)
At first glance, this seems like a normal dramatic episode in the reality TV dimension of planet Earth. However, the intense focus on the scandal felt forced and strategic. It had the feel of a product placement or PR plug. It had the aroma of Madison Avenue.
Another recent scandal was whether the Jersey Shore kids were degrading the image of all Italian-Americans. Really? That show is nothing more than an ethnic version of The Real World (which has been on for 18 years). However, Viacom brilliantly played the media for every last drop of scandal PR. The result: the most popular show for Viacom in years.
Scandal is an awesome marketing tool. Rather than pay for ads in People, US Weekly, or on shows like E! or Headline News, with a little scandal you can get millions of dollars of press for free. Moreover, all that press becomes gossip (AKA "word-of-mouth" marketing).
Now more than ever, scandal can go uber-viral on the backbone of social media. In a modern world where media companies are competing against new outlets such as Facebook, YouTube, and blogs, executives know it takes something shocking to gain a share of our finite attention spans. Therefore, marketing departments salivate to solve the Davinci Code of their careers by getting clients' products tweeted, dugg, messaged, youtubed, or texted.
If the past year has been any indicator, I anticipate scandal to play an increasingly important role in many media marketing budgets in the years to come. Luckily for marketing's mad men and women, there is no shortage of egomaniacs-gone-wild to support the cause.
What do you think about scandal's role in marketing? Share your comments below.