Divide and rule

by Tom Albrighton 11 September 2018 Copywriting

Here’s a smart piece of agile marketing from The Guardian. They’ve created a fundraising call to action based around Elon Musk’s insult that appears alongside the article reporting that insult.

Online ad for supporting the Guardian newspaper

Online ad reads: ‘Support what Musk calls the most insufferable newspaper on planet Earth’.

It’s all about dividing opinion. The fast-growing demographic who think Musk is a capering idiot will be tickled by the thought of contributing, however marginally or indirectly, to his annoyance. Musk fans might be turned off – but they’d never have clicked anyway, whatever the copy said. And agnostics might be intrigued purely by the strength of his reaction.

Any ‘Marmite’ product can be sold this way. Comedian Stewart Lee often cites negative reviews, while the billboard in the image shows how one café turned an online rant into a slogan.

Blackboard outside café reads: ‘Come in & try the worst porridge that one woman on Tripadvisor had in her life’

It works by subverting the persuasive principle of authority: putting forward an authority figure who you actually want the reader to disbelieve, or disobey. That builds rapport, because it shows you trust them to think for themselves.

Read more on divisive copy in chapter 9 and the principle of authority in chapter 13 of Copywriting Made Simple.

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