Marketing 4 min read

Content Marketing in the age of Outrage Culture

What is outrage culture and where does it come from? Can businesses use it as a marketing tactic? Is outrage marketing legitimate?

WAYHOME studio / Shutterstock.com

WAYHOME studio / Shutterstock.com

Outrage culture is a disturbing rising trend in human society. Outrage is a feeling that’s deep-rooted in the human experience.

In this day and age, content marketers can use “outrage” to sell and motivate prospects. But before getting to that, let’s trace “outrage culture” back in history.

The Roots of Outrage Culture

The human experience, taken as a whole, is defined more by struggle than by comfort or ease. Calamities of natural and human origin, like epidemics and wars, marked human history.

These events often have a unifying effect on populations that must regroup and unite for the sake of survival and collective growth. We evolved with a sense of togetherness.

Today, such catastrophic events still occur, but we can soften their blow. For instance, wars are less frequent and kill fewer people.

Natural disasters may be getting more frequent today due to climate change, but their death tolls are declining. We owe this to scientific and technological advances, which might also be the source of today’s outrage culture.

Man and woman fighting - Outrage Culture
The human experience, taken as a whole, is defined more by struggle than by comfort or ease. | Tiko Aramyan / Shutterstock.com

The world we live in is dramatically different from that of our ancient ancestors. But our brain is still calibrated to face the same old social stressors.

As there’s no big unifying challenge to face, we just create one! Through the “outrage process,” we dramatize mundane things and play to the gallery.

We create non-existent crises. It could be a fake hate crime by an actor or the overlooked bigger picture of a boy in a MAGA hat and a native American.

Our “indignation” and outraged behavior betrays a deep desire to feel “together” in the face of a common threat. It could be our built-in “herd instinct” that urges us to call out like-minded people through outrage expression.

But the underlying mechanisms of outrage are more complex. Outrage can go in diametrically opposite directions, in the same community.

You’d find those who are outraged about something being banned, and those outraged about it being permitted.

Outrage Marketing: the “Right to Offend”

Beside being leveraged by populist politicians, the outrage culture is also capitalized on in business marketing.

Tapping into outrage culture and adopting controversial rhetoric to “sell more” seems to become standard practice.

Do brands have the “right to offend”?

Can businesses use outraged messages to rise above the clutter?

Is it ethical for marketers and advertisers to practice outrage marketing to cut through the noise?

At any rate, outrage marketing pushes the boundaries of what is regarded as acceptable.

Angry paper bag head
Do brands have the “right to offend?” | Black Salmon / Shutterstock.com

People don’t buy what they need. They buy what they want.

If cheesing them off a bit would give them a nudge, why not—some marketers think.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat are ripe for outrage marketing.

If you can “piss people off” in a way as to not cause harm, maybe you want to try it. It can be a smart way to get your brand noticed and talked about.

However, beware when stirring up “controversies” because you can precariously make waves.

It is up to you to decide whether it’s legitimate to cash in on outrage culture. But you need to be careful when trying to create conversations to draw prospects and get attention.

You may not be able to afford the resulting backlash. We’ve seen some controversial ads from major brands, like Pepsi and Nivea, that were met with viral outrage.

One could imagine these brand ads were designed to create outrage in the first place. This tactic could allow them to sell more to the “not-outraged” part of the community that could be just curious.

Read More: Here’s What you can Do to Get More Social Media Shares

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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