The Benefit of Being Strategically Disliked

Who will not buy my product because they feel something is objectionable about it?

The flipside to any positive emotional connotation or connection is a negative one. If you are inspiring enough such that some people love what you are doing, odds are you are going to be inspiring others to dislike your product with an equal passion. Plenty of companies trade on the fact that they represent something the mainstream culture will find offensive or questionable. Look at any business that sells rebellion or a gritty countercultural message. Even more mainstream products such as those found in the tobacco or alcohol industries subtly sell themselves as being a little dangerous and outside the norm. The question for you is to decide whether there is any benefit or purpose to being strategically disliked or being perceived by some as “not us.” Will it benefit you and your product to deliberately set yourself in opposition to certain social groups? And if so, how do you accomplish this? This strategy can be positive if it allows you to clearly define what you are about and who you are targeting. The important thing is to carefully walk the line between creating connection on one side and provoking rejection on the other.

Look at the growing trend of restaurants and gastropubs that refuse to offer any substitutions on their menu. Father’s Office in L.A.’s Culver City has great burgers, but only serves them one way; with caramelized onions, bacon, gruyère, blue cheese, and arugula—no ketchup. If you want ketchup, you’ll have to sneak in your own packets and be careful that the waitstaff doesn’t catch you using them. You’d think that a restaurant with this kind of draconian policy against customization would be dead in the water. Not so. If you want to eat at Father’s Office, you’ll be waiting for hours for a table; it’s packed, day and night. Some people hate Father’s Office, and I have friends in L.A. who flat-out refuse to set foot in the place. That’s fine. The people who love it really, really love it—both for the food and for its slightly contrarian atmosphere. The negative emotional response it provokes in other people only solidifies the fans’ passion for the place.

 

Sparking Points

  • Have you ever tried to market your product based on what it doesn’t supply rather than on what it does?
  • Can you use the thing that’s objectionable about your product to create a community of customers?
  • How could eliminating the objection help or hurt you?
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