Was sitting surfing TV channels on a lazy afternoon while nothing interesting seemed to control my obsession with the remote control… News channels were busy predicting AB baby’s arrival, National Geographic was showing a repeat telecast of a show I had already watched, Movie channels were airing movies that can match the current pathetic film releases and GEC’s were busy with their usual afternoon-slot shows. My finger on the remote was like a non-stop punching machine when one show held my attention for a reasonably longer time than the others. The irony is that it wasn’t any intelligent, useful or revolutionary content but instead a host of tantrums, useless fights, meaningless gossip and silly tasks that were projected with the help of some attention-craving individuals who claimed to have innumerable fans out there who would happily vote for them for every nonsensical, silly act of theirs. Ahem, the truth is they actually did receive a considerable amount of votes and the show that’s currently running its fifth season has been a hit for last four years. Well, the recipe for success of Bigg Boss has always been controversial gossips or ugly bitching or couples pairing up and even getting married on the show. And the more nonsensical (or should I say, unnecessarily cheap) it got, the more popularity it gained. It simply paid to be sick… to be bad.
It isn’t an unknown fact that people often get more interested in other people’s lives than their own. Perhaps, it is an inherent human nature to have an opinion about others and suggest what they should ‘ideally’ do, especially when others lives don’t directly affect their own. This probably happens since, it’s easier to focus on the events or situations that we have no emotional attachment to, instead of focusing on the aspects we don’t like in our own lives. Many shows, advertisements and even wannabe celebs today are trying to use this human nature to their advantage and attracting attention towards them through negative publicity. What the audience gets is a new topic to gossip and entertain themselves and what producers, companies or celebs get is some undivided attention and popularity.
Now, even though initially the popularity achieved may be in bad taste, often the task of getting the required attention is accomplished, …after all attention is the most valuable commodity today. Moreover, with time, the bad image is likely to be nothing more than a figment in people’s short-term memory or has the potential to be reversed even by a mere apology for the unacceptable act. Consider Tiger Woods – not saying he deliberately got the accident done or cheated on his wife to attract attention via negative publicity but even after big controversies tarnishing his image completely in view of public eye, an apology and noticeable behaviour change has slowly got him back on track on being one of America’s favourite golfers. At the same time, Rakhi Sawant is happily basking under the sun of fame and popularity, all owing to the number of outrageous behaviour displays and scandals that she has been involved in.
Negative publicity before the release of movies has also worked wonders to generate curiosity in the crowds to watch the film. As opposed to conventional promotional activities, buzz created due to affairs between lead actors or promoting controversial content from the film has often resulted in big ticket sales with a profitable outcome. Mallika Sherawat, for instance, would have remained unnoticed if her 17 lip-locks in Khwahish wouldn’t have been publicised on almost every media channel. Kurbaan attracted a lot of attention after posters with a bare-backed Kareena Kapoor were removed by Shiv Sena supporters. Kites release was hyped and awaited with bated breath after a highly publicised affair between Hrithik Roshan and Barbara Mori. Love, Sex Aur Dhoka got packed cinema houses after one of its sex scene photograph was featured in a tabloid. Deshdrohi’s Kamaal Khan got 5 seconds of fame because of the Marathi-Bihari issue in his film. Night Shyamalan, on the other hand, tried to play it smartly by releasing a hoax documentary on the Sci-Fi channel to promote his film The Village. This particular mockumentary – “The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan, shot on the set of The Village” was full of ridiculous facts and resulted in a huge audience for the actual film, because of its negative publicity campaign. Film controversies have also played up as “breaking news” before release and well, the list here is endless.
Advertisers aren’t far behind in featuring controversial content. What comes to your mind when you recollect the recent Fasttrack commercials or the Amul Macho (yeh toh bada toing hai) campaign or the old Tuff footwear ad featuring super-models Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre posing nude with a python? Nothing positive enough to be discussed comfortably with both tots and old, right? But still these ad campaigns are some which haven’t got lost in the clutter of plenty of other good commercials that have come and gone unnoticed.
There is yet another genre that really makes use of negative publicity to its advantage and that’s the book publishing industry. Bill Clinton’s autobiography My Life became a bestseller, not because people were keen to know about his journey to becoming the President of United States but because they were curious to know the person described by Monica Lewinsky. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, had become more of a ‘style statement’ to be carried in hand by almost every other person I saw on the street after controversy surrounding it made it supremely famous. Jaswant Singh’s book Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence that contained some controversial remarks against Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was received fairly well even after it got banned in Gujarat and Jaswant Singh got expelled from BJP.
As said by Brendan Behan, “There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary”, the focus has today shifted to merely publicise – whether good or bad. The idea is to not ever get forgotten or go unnoticed. Personally, I am not with it as bad publicity, in my opinion, hurts more than going unnoticed. Nevertheless, it does work and those who wish to use it to their advantage will continue to attract attention and get us interested in them by playing with our inherent nature.