June 3, 2010

How to Be a Dick and Still Succeed in Business

Filed under: Branding — Tags: — Meredith @ 9:23 am

I was perusing my feed reader the other day and this article really caught my attention. In short, a bakery had the following tagline: “So Good It Makes Fat People Cry.” Predictably, someone complained. The bakery owner called the complaining customer a “fat cunt” and later issued a public apology. Of course all hell broke loose, sort of. Basically, the story blew up all over the web.

While a lot of you might say the company was wrong to have that slogan in the first place, my take on this is that the company’s #1 mistake was getting defensive about it. You can be a dick and still be successful, even admired, but there are some rules to follow.

1. Embrace it
There are brands that are famous for their trouble-making founders; they succeed in part because they’re unapologetic. Look no further than American Apparel. It’s got haters galore, but there are also throngs of people who adore their sleazy ads. While sites like Jezebel and their reader’s bristled at the brand’s “Best Butt” contest, over 1,000 brand loyalists submitted entries and all the haters inadvertently contributed to American Apparel’s fame (or infamy if you prefer) by writing about their controversial publicity stunt.

American Apparel made no apologies to anyone who felt offended by their contest. This sort of thing is what makes them who they are.

2. Be authentic
Being an unapologetic dick takes balls. If that’s not your personality, don’t even bother with trying this tactic to boost your brand’s visibility. On the other hand, if this IS your personality be true to it. There are people who will be drawn to your “who cares what they think” attitude and it can help you stand out in a world full of brands that want to be everyone’s best friend.

3. Be prepared for the blowback and ready to spin it
The good and bad part of being a dick is that eventually people are going to notice and they’re going to talk about it. The good news is that this can mean a ton of press. The bad news is that this can mean a ton of haters and you’ll need to be ready for them. Be prepared for how you’ll handle them and consider how it will affect your brand image.

If you make yourself out to be an opinionated brand that hurts a few feelings and makes no apologies, the last thing you want to do is start making apologies. Stick to your guns and let the chips fall where the may. Apologizing probably won’t win over the people you’ve scandalized, but it will make you less appealing to fans who appreciate your image as is.

Just a Few Successful and Famous Dicks:
Joe Francis, of Girls Gone Wild fame, certainly ruffles nearly every feminist’s feathers but since he’s peddling softcore porn, they’re really not his target market any way. Every time someone complains about his antics, his brand gets more publicity.

Anna Wintour has been called “Darth Vader in a frock” and famously made the Rodarte sisters go on a diet for an upcoming issue of Vogue. She’s known for hating on the plus sizes and generally being an ice queen. She’s still probably the most admired and revered woman in fashion.

Howard Stern’s list of scandals is too long to count, offending everyone from women to the disabled. His shameless antics got him ranked in Forbes’ 2006 list of World’s Most Powerful Celebrities and has earned him hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention millions of fans.

Mike Jeffries of Abercombie and Fitch (a 5 billion dollar company) said on record to a reporter “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.” Abercrombie regularly gets fame and infamy from its habit of only employing perfect-looking people and hocking tees that say “Who Needs a Brain When You Have These?” “Gentlemen Prefer Tig Ol’ Bitties” and “Do I Make You Look Fat?” When called out for it, Jeffries said “Listen, do we go too far sometimes? Absolutely. But we push the envelope, and we try to be funny, and we try to stay authentic and relevant to our target customer. I really don’t care what anyone other than our target customer thinks.

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