An introduction to polarizing topcis in content marketing.

An introduction to polarizing topics in content marketing

Most of us don’t really want to rock the boat.

If we can easily get our job done without risking a flurry of controversy we’ll usually go the route of least resistance.

But sometimes, stirring up a controversy is the best way to achieve our goals – particularly if you’re trying to draw attention to your brand in your content marketing efforts.

So if you’re thinking about using a polarizing topic to give your content a new zip this guide can give you an introduction on how to proceed.

Why polarizing topics work

Increased attention

Ever read the story about the plane landing safely?

Of course you haven’t.

Planes doing what they’re supposed to do (landing safely) isn’t interesting.

A plane landing in the Hudson River, though? Now that’s interesting!

As much as we might like to hope otherwise, controversy sells.

So if you’re looking to set your content apart from the vanilla sort of posts that invade most social feeds, conflict is a great way of gaining attention.

Deeper audience connection

In 2011 Kraft, the maker of Miracle Whip, started a campaign around a simple question: What do you think of Miracle Whip?

The idea was simple.

Kraft wanted to use research showing how polarizing its product was to generate attention and, ultimately, a deeper connection with those who liked their product.

The campaign was, for the most part, a success.

“During the campaign Miracle Whip experienced a 631% surge in social media postings and a 14% increase in sales,” writes the Harvard Business Review.

By discussing how polarizing the product is, Kraft was able to deepen the connection to its audience.

Content that sticks

Conflict and tension are a key element of storytelling.

When was the last time you watched a movie where everyone sat around for two hours happy with their lives and everyone else around them?

Injecting your content with conflict will help take advantage of this natural human inclination to be more interested in controversial topics.

That means your content is more likely to stand out in the demand for your audience’s attention.

The downside of polarizing topics

Invited unwanted attention

Getting attention for your content is great.

Getting the wrong kind of attention from people you don’t want to reach?

Not so great.

Any decision about controversial content needs to account for the possibility that polarizing content will turn off part of your audience.

Missing the message

Polarizing topics require a deliberate approach to your messaging.

If you don’t think carefully about how your approaching your topic, you could quickly be getting attention for the wrong reasons.

This ad from Cinnabon is an example of content marketing gone wrong.

Alienating your audience

There’s no other way to say it.

Some people who follow you will be turned off by a controversial message.

(There’s a reason, after all, why they call it “polarizing).

If a large portion of the audience is going to be turned off by your message, you might be better off staying on safer content ground.

How to use polarizing topics in your content marketing

Know your audience

A decision about injecting polarizing topics into your content marketing really starts with one thing: Your audience.

Think about who you are trying to reach.

Are polarizing topics likely to deepen your connection with them? Or is it more likely to turn them off your brand?

Once you answer that question you have a pretty good idea of whether or not a polarizing content marketing strategy is for you.

Be prepared for backlash

We live in interesting times.

Pushing anything remotely controversial out into the world is going to invite – you guessed it – controversy.

Stating an opinion on Twitter can invite angry responses and comments that will quickly put the spotlight on you and your organization.

If you work at an organization that generally steers clear of controversy, then maybe a polarizing content marketing topic isn’t for you.

Make a bold statement about who you are

Some brands have, for better or worse, traits that polarize their audience one way or another.

Accentuating those polarizing traits can help inspire some popular content.

This is where the “toilet paper strategy” can help.

The "toilet paper strategy" is an example of how to successfully use controversy in content marketing.

It’s not the most controversial opinion in the world.

But it’s sure to get a conversation going.


Polarizing topics can provide a big boost for your content marketing.

But they need to be approached in the right way.

By considering how you want to approach polarizing topics you can be sure to get the most out of a controversial content marketing strategy.

Share this article