In his article entitled ‘Why Your Brand Should Piss Someone Off’, Austin McGhie, author of ‘Brand is a Four Letter Word’, stated:

“Polarization is good. Travelling the middle road, as broad and tempting as it may be, is always and unequivocally bad. Like people, brands are defined by the company they keep. But they’re also defined by the company the don’t keep”

During the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996 Nike ran a controversial ad campaign. The campaign slogan was: “You don’t win silver, you lose gold.” Nike has created a culture unabashedly built around winning, and if you can’t take the heat, you’re not in the club. People mostly love the brand for it. However, a few dislike it, but do you think the people running Nike lose sleep over it?

In a similar campaign, And1, a popular basketball shoe and apparel brand, addressed the meaning behind its name. The company basically said: “If you don’t know what it means, we don’t want you wearing our shoes.” It’s a ‘street ball’ expression, apparently. I don’t know what it means, I don’t wear the shoes. I do know that outside the NBA, And1 is the biggest brand in basketball today and has an almost religious following through its fan base.

These two sports companies have both developed a culture that is only a dream for most brands. Are these kinds of corporate cultures Flawsome? Absolutely! Will it appeal to everyone? Nope. Does that mean they are losing business? Maybe a little, but I don’t see either of these companies flinching in the slightest. Much more stands to be gained than lost.

Every strong and focused brand, just like every strong and focused person, creates this love/hate dynamic to some degree. If a brand annoys you, that’s okay, you are not the target audience. If we complain about them, we’re only adding fuel to the fire and reinforcing their brand’s values. Remember, any publicity can be good publicity.

A colleague of mine, who teaches branding, once said to me that one of the biggest challenges he faces is getting his students to comprehend how niching will increase their business. It seems counter-intuitive, but the narrower you target, the broader you can catch. Brands that have a narrow target generally stand for something, while brands that target too broadly, often don’t.

You don’t have to set out to provoke negative reactions in order to stand out, although sometimes that will happen whether you want it to or not.