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Controversy creates cash

  • Published at 07:25 pm March 5th, 2017
  • Last updated at 08:46 pm March 5th, 2017
Controversy creates cash

They say any publicity is good publicity, whether your venture has been heaped with accolades or drowned under a sea of tirade.

In reality, in current times, we see that people become more interested in products or events once they have been tarnished by some sort of controversy. Ban a product from the market, and, usually, its demand will see a surge.

Of late, we have been seeing some rather innovative marketing ploys where a lot of salacious gossip, mostly tilting on the not-so-ideal side, is forcefully circulated to create a market buzz. People talk only when something is not full of virtue.

Let’s take a look at the publicity of a rather recent film production which saw stupendous success even though the template was totally contrary to the commercial movie formula. And guess what? It did not have a provocative, blood-pressure-instigating item number either.

But, it had something else: A kissing scene around which a lot of market interest was created.

Did the protagonists actually lock lips or not? -- the question was deliberately posted countless times on social media platforms and, well, a lot of young people, plus a few curious old ones, decided to buy tickets and see for themselves.

Not a big deal, a kiss in a film, but despite suggestive dialogue and dance scenes with women exposing the navel and the cleavage, our movies usually do not show actual kissing.

Lest the morals of the young are diluted!

So, there you have it: The power of what many will call strategic marketing.

A few months ago, a TV advert created a storm when it showed a well-known cricket player in a sexually suggestive sequence with an undertone of role-play and bondage.

“Outrageous!” cried the puritans -- but the new generation was thrilled to the core. The advert was for an energy drink, but I am sure it’s consumed everywhere as an aphrodisiac.

The advert was taken off air, but look it up on YouTube and see how many times it has been searched for and viewed -- a canny marketing approach with the ban and the social outcry serving the purpose of brand build-up.

Let’s go into the realm of fiction: Back in the early 90s, a book was proscribed on the grounds that it misrepresented “traditional values” and demeaned a section.

To put it simply, it showed a married woman having an illicit physical affair with an artist, with their trysts detailed in steamy language. “Fifty shades of Bengali eroticism,” perhaps. Again, there was outrage, and the book, unheard of by most so far, became the talk of evening addas.

Inquisitive people went to bookstores asking in a hushed tone: “Bhai, do you have ...”

When we were in our teens in the early 80s, the standard command in all middle-class homes was “Masud Rana pora jaabe naa” (you cannot read Masud Rana books), because books from this series had a few racy paragraphs, much like that of James Bond or Nick Carter.

Collective parental denunciation of Masud Rana was compounded when the author of the series was taken to court for explicit lines in one of his books. The fact that the writer was later allowed to go free never altered the deeply-entrenched belief among parents that Rana’s main target was to make young minds become vitiated with sex.

The result, of course, was the opposite. Masud Rana was perhaps the most read series in post-independence Bangladesh.

Controversy topped with some negative reports actually raise the profile of the targeted item. Take Salman Rushdie for instance -- he became a hated figure in many parts of the world when one of his books was deemed to be blasphemous, but, while on one hand, the writer had to lead a secret life to avoid getting murdered, on the other, his popularity as a writer rocketed.

Controversy topped with some negative reports actually raise the profile of the targeted item. Take Salman Rushdie for instance -- while on one hand, the writer had to lead a secret life to avoid getting murdered, on the other, his popularity as a writer rocketed

Never liked his writing, but due to the fatwa issued on him for his death, Rushdie became known globally.

Well, maybe in this case, the writer’s publicist possibly did not foresee the grim ramifications.

In Bangladesh, a well-known textile businessman shot into celluloid prominence when he began brazenly comparing himself to top Hollywood stars in interviews.

Such unabashed self-promotion stunned people, and many tried to dismiss him as a narcissistic clown, but this strategy plus many other antics, including public spats recorded on mobile and posted online, fueled his image, and people went to see his movies, turning the man into a superstar.

Initial controversy turned into a wave of popular support. Movies made profit, the man became an icon, and, after achieving recognition, slipped away into his own world of business.

A Dhaliwood star sustains the mystique surrounding him and his private life by keeping people in confusion as to where his actual love interests lie. From time to time, delectable stories of secret affairs de coeur are printed on paper which only trigger public fascination in him and his private life.

To end, the latest buzz is over a movie which is reportedly based on the life of a now deceased writer. Speculation of a legal case, colourful comments from both here and abroad, and conflicting statements coalesced to create a pre-release hype.

Don’t know if this is part of a well-thought-out marketing strategy or not, but such debate surely inflame the interest of movie-goers.

One of my journalist friends, a dilettante film-maker, asked for marketing advice, and I told him: “Whatever you make, ensure that, prior to release, the actors disappear in an abduction drama, with the police in hot pursuit and the media running front-page news with titles like ‘Actors’ abduction: Night club owner Vodka-Manik suspected.’

Then, on the day of the release, have them be discovered in some remote place, perhaps dressed in combat uniform, with temporary amnesia, and a large crate of pomegranates.

Thoughts?

Towheed Feroze is a journalist currently working in the development sector.