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Using Anger to Build an Audience

On December 11, 2020 the Wall Street Journal published a piece written by Joseph Epstein where he essentially downplayed Dr. Jill Biden's Ph.D., called her "kiddo," and suggested that she drop the "doctor" title from her name. And chaos ensued.

I also had several friends voice their disbelief that someone would write an article like this, much less get the Wall Street Journal to publish it. And while the feminist in me was completely appalled, the digital marketing expert in me wasn't surprised at all.

Anger sells.

Emotion is what makes digital marketing work

As I would tell any client, the most important component of any digital marketing campaign is emotion; you want the audience to feel something about what you've written. Make the reader/viewer sad, laugh, feel responsible, feel justified...anything that will make them want to share it along with their own thoughts.

And, these days especially, nothing does that like anger.

Anger is a “high-arousal” emotion – it agitates us into doing something, such as leaving an angry comment online. Positive content leads to consensus (no one argues over pictures of cute cats), but anger provokes arguments and disagreements. Visible arguments, like ones on social media, draw in bystanders as people argue opposing views. This creates an “outrage cycle” – people share the thing they’re annoyed about, leading others to see it, and then sharing their annoyance with yet more people.
For marketers, if provoking outrage creates the most engagement – which is crucial online, because customers who are more engaged with a website are exposed to more ads – then anger becomes the most profitable emotion.

So, the fact that the Wall Street Journal published this piece shouldn't surprise anyone. As of today, there are almost 5,000 comments on that piece just on the publication's website - that doesn't include what was shared on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Their visibility was HUGE.

Who can we thank for this?

Well, I think it's been building for a while, but the media in general certainly doesn't help. I was one of those people who was glued to my television during election season because I was so angry and most of the news stories confirmed my outrage. That's because - and I'll be the first to admit it - I watched news programs I knew would be in line with how I think. And they confirmed and fueled my anger which made me watch them even more.

But no one has perfected the art of using anger to build an audience like Donald Trump. Whether you're for or against him, he has amassed a Twitter following of 47 million people by making us angry; either we're angry at him and the people who are following him OR we're angry because he wants us to hate the people who DON'T follow him. Either way - we're outraged.

So, the next time you ask...

  • Why in the world did that newspaper/media outlet publish that?

  • Why did Trump say what he did?

  • How can anyone be that stupid?

...remember that 9 times out of 10 whatever has been published was VERY deliberate (that 1 out of 10 probably actually WAS that stupid). You saw it. It pissed you off. You reposted it so that your friends would know you were pissed off. Now they're pissed off and reposting it. And now people are following the story to see what happens next.

An effective marketing tool?

You bet your high blood pressure it is.


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