The Power Of Controversial Content – And The Risks

We’ve all heard the popular adage “any press is good press.” With caveats, the adage is mostly true. While good press is best, any press (even “bad” press) can be beneficial. Which brings us to controversial content.

Controversial content has a lot of positives:

  1. Controversy generates interest on social media. By nature, controversial content encourages people to share.
  2. Controversial content stimulates interest in your company. People who read the content often want to investigate your company to learn more about it.
  3. Controversy can encourage others to think of you as a “thought leader,” raising your profile.

Of course, controversial content is also risky. Without a good understanding of the risks, controversial content can blow up in your face.

Dipping toes

Our goal is to help auto parts retailers and manufacturers “dip their toes” into the controversial content swimming pool. With the right approach, controversial content is an easy and near risk-free promotional tool.

Formulas For Controversy In Automotive Media

In the automotive world, there are some formulas you can follow to generate controversy:

  • Vehicle model X is better than vehicle model Y. This formula works well, as enthusiasts for both vehicles get involved.
  • Popular opinion about X is wrong. “X” can be a well-known type of part, a popular engine or vehicle, etc. This statement isn’t meant to be offensive, but it should challenge common notions.
  • Regulations are ruining X. “X” can be a vehicle model, an activity, or a type of part. The controversy around criticizing regulations is generally mild. Still, this type of post can get a good response.
  • X is dangerous, stupid, wrong, etc. “X” can be a type of part, an activity, a regulation, etc. The key is to challenge popular opinions.
  • What you don’t know is hurting you. Someone or something is cheating consumers. A common practice is damaging. Etc.

These formulas work because they attack common beliefs or opinions, but do so in a reasonable way. They’re not intended to be offensive, but they will challenge opinions. This makes them good (yet mostly safe) formulas for controversy.

Examples of Controversy in Action


Controversial content is in every issue of every major automotive magazine. It’s being shared on Facebook and Twitter right now, etc. Here are some examples:

  • 6 Ways Rental Car Companies Are Quietly Ripping You Off – The controversy is that we’re paying too much and we don’t know it. The author is accusing us of being ignorant, but doing so without placing blame on our shoulders.
  • 6 Things I Hate About Car Culture In 2015 – The controversy is that some aspects of popular culture are stupid or wrong. This content is written in such a way as to leave room for the behaviors the author doesn’t like. It also does a good job of describing without offending.
  • The 5 Most Overrated Cars – This post attacks five specific models for being overrated. While some limited praise is offered for each car model, the author doesn’t leave much room for dissenting opinions. Take a look at the comments on this post. When an author doesn’t leave room for dissenters, pushback is likely.
  • Here’s Why the V8 Audi S4 Is An Awful Used Car – This is a great example. The headlines says that the V8 Audi S4 is somehow awful, but the words “used car” make it seem less offensive. The author also does a good job of giving S4 fans a few compliments before tearing into the unreliable nature of their vehicle. A perfect example of controversy in action.

The last example has nearly 5,000 combined shares on Twitter and Facebook. While part of this success is due to the publication (Jalopnik is a very popular site), the article’s deft use of a controversial point of view was key. The article is a warning to Audi owners, but also something Audi “haters” will love. There’s also a great story about a peculiar automotive design buried inside.

There are countless examples of controversial content in the auto industry. Each has something to teach. The “trick” is to pay attention.

Checklist – How to Write About Controversy

Here are some guidelines and best practices for controversial topics.

  1. Decide your position, or decide not to have a position. Usually, you’re going to come down as strongly in favor or strongly against. However, you can also use the third person to make a case for one position without choosing a side.
  2. Leave room for the other side. Make it so that people who disagree can do so without feeling belittled. Make your case and be bold, but don’t be rude or condescending.
  3. Check your facts. Sometimes, controversial content isn’t fact based. But when facts are part of the controversy, they be should accurate. It’s also a good idea to provide sources for your facts, so your accuracy isn’t called into question.
  4. Look for value in trivial topics. You don’t have to cover some major topic to get people interested. Talking about something small – like the right and wrong way to remove an oil filter – can often be very effective.
  5. Address comments and social media responses diplomatically. Differing points of view should be treated with respect, provided they are respectful.
  6. Ignore the trolls. You don’t want to ignore feedback, but you don’t have to respond when the feedback is obnoxious. Ignoring people who say hateful and/or irrational things is the only way to beat them.
  7. Expect some pushback. Controversial content shouldn’t hurt feelings or make people feel bad. Still, there’s going to be someone who feels slighted. Receiving a “I’ll never do business with you again” email is always possible. For that reason, controversy might not be smart for established companies with a lot to lose.
  8. Get a 3rd party opinion. When you create controversial content, it’s a great idea to get a 3rd party to review it. Someone who knows about the industry can tell you if you’ve hit the mark or missed it. Someone who doesn’t know the industry can help you with tone.

In business, controversy is generally thought of as a bad idea. But controversial content works. It gets attention on social media, it generates links and mentions, and it often leads to a huge amount of exposure. As long as controversial content is created and managed with care, it’s a great marketing tool.

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