Why Being Hated Isn't The Worst Thing For Your Brand

Haters are gonna hate, and achieving salience isn't always going to be easy or comfortable. Here's why it shouldn't bother you.

Despite all your success, your worst nightmare has finally come true.

After a few years working hard, your brand has really started to find its stride. You’ve been focused and pulled all the right levers to bring love and goodwill to your brand. Your brand has developed a strong core of followers, and more customers are coming on board. Year over year sales are now consistently trending nicely.

But now you’ve just discovered a contingency of haters has emerged, and you’re distraught.

Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, though, why don’t you pat yourself on the back instead—your brand has officially become salient.

What salience means for your brand

Salience, or simply being noticed, is a concept that isn’t considered nearly enough when considering brand strategy.

Is it because marketers have been so focused on differentiation? If you think about it, differentiation appeals to someone making a reasoned choice. But, if we agree that a brand is mostly about developing an emotional relationship with an audience, couldn’t we also assert that salience is even more critical than differentiation?

Instead of simply asking, “How is our brand different?” shouldn’t we be asking, “How is our brand salient?”

Despite the lip service that some marketers pay to “breaking through the clutter,” many more are too often concerned that they actually might stand out, and possibly even offend someone. Being conspicuous does create the potential for negative feedback, since everyone can’t like everything.

But a successful brand manager knows the brand can’t be for everyone. The more salient a brand becomes, those that aren’t a part of that brand experience can sometimes become opponents.

From presidents, to companies, to sports teams, those that have a clear point of view will often have their share of critics and haters. Is it because the haters feel left out? Is it that they don’t agree with your brand’s point of view?

While we intellectually know that our brand can’t be all things to all people, it’s often difficult to accept that reality emotionally. But the successful brands are those that can be disciplined enough to make the bold moves that might eliminate some portions of the market. These are business realities that you have to wrestle with and accept.

Take a chance and let the haters hate

While the recent Cadillac ELR ad enraged many, it also spoke very clearly to those who might actually be interested in buying one.

The First Ever 2014 Cadillac ELR: Poolside Ad

Those that didn’t like the spot would have likely never purchased a Cadillac anyway, and the brand leaders were bold enough to understand and embrace it.

Why has salience taken a back seat? I contend that it’s mostly about risk.

Most of us tend to over-react to negative feedback, which makes it difficult for us to respond rationally when encountering any less-than-positive response to what we’re doing. The most common reaction is to pull back immediately from what is making someone react. And, even while we try to convince ourselves that “it’s just a few people,” we then think about our boss’s reaction—and our boss’s boss’s reaction. All of this concern causes us to dull the edges of our brand, keeping us from doing something that might actually stand out and be noticed.

Even though we all want to be loved, we also have to remember that success often breeds contempt.

The most valuable sports teams, like the Yankees and Cowboys, have the largest groups of haters. And one of college basketball’s most successful programs, Duke, has a great following of haters. What we have to remember is that love and hate aren’t necessarily at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Love and hate are actually at one end and indifference is at the other. Nobody hates the Milwaukee Bucks.

For a brand, a lot of indifference is more damaging than a little hatred—which means that you should actually find comfort that those newfound haters are simply validating the saliency of your brand.

Tom Denari is President of Young & Laramore.

[Image: Flickr user Official U.S. Navy Page]

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6 Comments

  • Dee Hill Evans

    Love and hate are both passionate, visceral responses. You've made someone's heart beat faster. You've made them feel something. THAT gets you recognized.

    In response to the LA Clippers, et al issue-that inspires disgust which is a whole other storm of feelings that turns folks off completely!

  • First, I must say, as I was reading your post, I couldn't help but recall the first piece of hate-mail I ever received for a brand campaign I worked on (yes... real, hand-written, personally-directed, 'you-should-be-ashamed-of-yourself' snail mail). At the time, I remember feeling a sense of pride, excitement even, that something I'd created made such an intense, immediate and emotional impact. Wow.... It was (dare I say?) intoxicating!

    But that was then. And those days are long gone.

    Being 'hated' as a brand is different today. Both in terms of the cause(s) and the severity of the impact of said 'hatred' (hmmm, do the LA Clippers or Chik-Fil-A ring a bell?). Instead of focusing merely on audience reaction (whether negative or positive) shouldn't brands be more concerned with creating (and DELIVERING) a great product and customer experience?

    The whole 'it's ok if you're hated as long as you're noticed' stance feels a bit old-fashioned to me.

  • Leigh,

    Thanks for taking the time to read and respond. While I agree that a brand should definitely be concerned with creating a great product and customer experience, that often isn't enough. Brands that have a clear, focused point of view are the ones that ultimately make a resonant, emotional connection.

    I'm not advocating doing something to create hatred. The examples you've shared really have nothing to do with brand strategy.

    Instead, I'm simply advocating that brands should actually stand for something, understanding that it won't appeal to everyone. And, those people sometimes become critics, or even haters.

  • Hi Tom, thanks for your reply. I understand (and agree) that brands need a unique POV and focus (one can't be everything to everyone.) I think we are covering two sides of the same coin... but while it is important to stand apart, I feel it's equally important to stand FOR something real/relatable...

    P.S. Sorry if my examples seemed irrelevant, they were simply meant to show that there can be many factors (valid or not) that can cause audiences to become critics/haters.

  • Great post. You hit on a key point that is so often missed by marketers. This echoes my sentiments from a few years ago when I too extolled the benefit of having people hate your brand in a post saying,

    I hope someone hates your brand.

    http://momentslater.blogspot.com/search?q=hate+your+brand

    So many brands just sit on the damn fence. Boring. Risk averse. Don't represent anybody. Of course, the real goal is to have people care about your brand in an emotional way that transcends features and benefits of the products. Beyond different is making a difference in people's lives. Your word salient is a good one to define this.

    I hope someone hates your post, because that means you have really argued a courageous point and a community of like-minded marketers will emerge. Keep up the great writing.

  • Our job is not to offend; but, perhaps more importantly, it is not to avoid giving offense, either. The most seemingly innocuous of ads will tick off someone. I once had a grandfather claim he'd never take his kids to the KC Zoo again because we used the word "sassmouth" in a radio spot. The marketing director said he was sorry to see him go and carried on. Need more clients like that.