Friday, November 15th, 2013
Some websites will do anything for attention.
Even if they march right past human rights and basic morals.
There is nothing funny about rape.
And there’s nothing remotely funny about pretending an entire festival centers on raping young girls.
Consider the recent article from NationalReport.net. The article entitled The Assam Rape Festival In India Begins This Week detailed a supposedly ancient tradition in the north eastern state of India.
The entire article was fabricated.
And completely unappropriated and offensive.
The article was shared widely on social media websites and sparked a tremendous backlash.
The author may have initially been pleased to see his material go viral.
But he probably didn’t expect what happened next.
The alleged goal of the offensive article was to provide a satirical piece that called attention to the plight of women in India.
The stated goal of the article was not well-matched, however, with the actual intentions of the author.
The idea of using a controversial topic or opinion to spark traffic and marketing efforts is certainly not new. If anything, the Indian rape article showed just how successful this particular marketing strategy can be.
It also allows the bold assumption that viral nature of the article and tremendous number of backlinks were the actual goals of the author – not positive awareness of women’s rights in India.
So initially it appears as through the strategy of NationalReport.net paid off. They posted a controversial article that:
It seems perfect!
But it’s not.
The authors of the Assam rape article quickly realized that things can spiral out of control. What seemed like a clever marketing campaign quickly became something closer to a public relations nightmare.
Due to its viral nature, the rape article spread into India where it was decried and the author called out by individuals, companies and even the government.
The author is not only facing the wrath of thousands of India’s citizens, but global citizens as well who are disgusted by the piece. In addition to that, the website owners are facing some legal troubles over the article.
Perhaps the “easy” backlinks from the viral content won’t be so simple by the time the dust settles for the author and website owner.
Of course, as they say, you reap what you sow.
The rape article did one major thing incorrectly.
It took a sensitive subject and created an offensive piece that was not funny, satirical or even slightly redeeming. It was not funny, clever or thought-provoking. It was sickening and wrong and the author now has the lawsuit to prove it.
But that doesn’t mean that controversial marketing is off the table for website owners.
While no author, blogger or website owner should ever strive to offend an entire nation and bring down legal action, you can certainly work with a topic that evokes strong opinions.
Just be sure you’re ready for the fallout it might create.
If you’re considering using controversial topics as marketing fodder, approach your topic with caution.
Be sure your piece is well written. One of the biggest issues with the Assam rape article is that it wasn’t very well written. It didn’t sound like something a journalist would write and the word choice was off in many places causing it to read as non-authentic, childish and horrible.
Granted there are a range of journalistic approaches in the world today, but controversial marketing should not include controversial comma placement – just content.
Make satire obvious. If you’re going to use satire in an article, the way the Assam rape article apparently attempted, be clear that you can actually write with a tongue-in-cheek style.
You’ll need to go over the top and include several blatant elements that clearly state the piece is of a satirical nature. This might in the author’s bio or in the story itself, but satire should be obvious or it’s ineffective by its very definition.
Consider a disclaimer page. You can avoid a tremendous amount of legal trouble if you protect yourself legally ahead of time. Include a formal disclaimer page and check for the legality of your page ahead of time. This is very much a case where forewarned is forearmed.
Use fictional elements. The people of Assam, India will feel violated for quite some time following this article. If the authors had instead chosen a fictional setting for their article they might have avoided at least some of the legal trouble they have created for themselves.
In your controversial piece, consider using fictional names, locations and businesses to avoid trouble – included lawsuits – that can be caused by using the wrong name at the wrong time.
Choose your topic carefully. You may think rape is hilarious. You might find it terrifically funny to make fun of the mentally disabled or physically disabled veterans.
You might be alone on this one.
Controversial topics don’t have to be offensive topics. You don’t have to offend individuals or entire groups of individuals to get people buzzing about a topic.
Treat topics with kid gloves and choose a topic that you know something about and can work with easily.
Then treat the topic delicately enough so as to be controversial.
Not horrendously offensive.