Let’s break something together.

Donald Trump picks Kayne West to be his vice president and running mate. Two of the largest brands using bad publicity to build their following. Two dark horses running in the night, for the White House (though Kayne may change the name of the house when he gets there).

Trump / Kanye for President and Vice President

The world of marketing, advertising, and publicity is full of myths, propagated over time by the experiences of our marketing ancestors. They are patterns, noticed by practitioners and then folded into the education culture along with all the other elements of our common disciplines.

“Any publicity is good publicity”

And, the ugly step brother.

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity”

The basic idea: people and the media are talking about you, no matter bad or good, at least you’re relevant. Okay.

The fact that we, as a human race, are willing to blur the lines between good publicity and bad publicity is a little disturbing.

But, the data does show up. Kayne West seems to sell more records when he is getting bad publicity. Donald Trump gets a bump in his polling when he says something shocking or obnoxious to the media.

Consider this article in The Economist, “Better to be reviled than ignored” and it starts to clarify the nuances. Smaller, younger brands with little awareness gain the benefit of awareness and a more expedited depletion of memory. Older brands don’t get this benefit, therefore the negative publicity is less attractive.


What if we changed the headline? Donald Trump picks Jared from Subway to be his running mate. First, it calls into question the word “mate” and second it likely puts a snarl on your face. And, with the argument made in The Economist article, how is the brand of Don small, young or facing obscurity in any form?

Here’s another view to consider.

Brands have meaning and the most important thing managers can do is be consistent with that meaning. No matter large or small, if the meaning is consistent, publicity can be negative or positive. The Don is nothing but consistently obnoxious, profoundly consistent to a degree that is actually amazing if you look at the patterns in his language. Kayne West is also just as consistently obnoxious and over the top with his personality. His consistent attacks on Taylor Swift have given him a long list of haters, but also clarified his actual audience.

So, perhaps we could clarify and refine this myth to better serve the next generation of brand managers.

“Any publicity is good publicity if it’s consistent with your brand.”

Carry this into your next meeting, the next time you guest lecture or quote it in your next book. We need to break old, dated myths and rebuild them to be more relevant to the next generation. We owe it to them.

Aaron Keller
Founder, Capsule
Co-Author: The Physics of Brand