How To Use controversy/outrage in your videos to grow your web traffic

Technology M&A in 2019

How To Use controversy/outrage in your videos to grow your web trafficIf you are using video to promote your brand and increase your conversion rate, your ultimate goal is to create videos that generate attention and attract a big audience. In order to achieve this, it is important to observe what it is that causes other videos to have this kind of success. Videos that have become ‘viral’ are great case studies for analysing features of video that you can harness to your advantage.

Emotional trigger pulling

There has been a lot of research into what it is that makes a video go viral. From studying ‘the most emailed’ list of the New York Times, one major factor that has been pinpointed is content which is emotionally compelling and evokes high arousal emotions. High arousal emotions include anger, awe, fear and disgust. So, for example, a happy video is less likely to go viral that a video that is scary.

It isn’t news that emotional trigger pulling is the key to good marketing. We all know (or at least we should!) that our marketing methods need to pay some attention to emotionally engaging our target audience. The difficulty is knowing how to use these methods effectively, with integrity, while staying true to your brand. You also want your video creations to inspire loyalty and support – which means there is a limit to how controversial your content can be.

Outrage + controversy = massive traffic

So, pulling big emotional triggers is the key. Derek Halpern  from Social Triggers claims that the best formula includes controversy. He has observed viral videos closely and has experimented with his own videos to establish that controversial content that polarizes people will become most popular, or more accurately, most watched.

Halpern talks of the ‘3 B’s’ – behaviour, belief and belongings. He claims that if you threaten or question these in some way and you will get a response and that response is usually outrage. If you manage to touch on an issue that provokes a passionate response from a few different view points, you will create a debate and people will want to get support for their own camp. This type of reaction is what causes online sharing – the consequence of which should be a surge in traffic for you.

Here is an example of a video which is pulled from a TV show. It has had well over 2 million views because it is controversial and the issue is important to so many different communities of people and schools of thought:

Is using controversy manipulation?

An accusation that all marketers are open to is that using controversy as a method is conducive to manipulation. All marketing is manipulation to some extent because ultimately, your goal is to get your audience to think in a way that you want them to and then carry out an action that you want from them (e.g. buy your product, sign up to your mailing list). However, in this sense, we are all marketers. Whether you are persuading your partner to go on holiday with you to your chosen destination or selling your skills to a potential employer in a job in a job interview.

Some would argue that resorting to controversy and negative emotional trigger pulling is not the way to promote a brand. It is up to you to gauge how appropriate different levels of controversy are for promoting your brand. Also, it completely depends on how you measure success. If video view count is your main measure of success then the more controversial you can be, the better. Some people prefer to spread positive messages and attract an audience who can relate to those messages and therefore buy in to their products.

Here is a good example of an advert that uses extreme emotions (fear, shock) but remains true to the brand. (Warning: despite knowing what I was looking for, I still got a shock from this!)

Taking risks and pushing boundaries; some ideas

How To Use controversy/outrage in your videos to grow your web trafficWe have put together a list of some ways that you can use controversy to your advantage whilst retaining your integrity and staying true to your brand.

Working with controversial people

If you work with characters who have controversial reputations, you can make videos that raise controversial issues. If you script well, you can avoid associating your brand with a side to an argument that you don’t want to be labelled with.

Challenging the status quo/commonly held beliefs

You can be controversial in your videos by providing a counter-opinion to commonly held thought processes about a particular thing. E.g. it could be that people have always argued that x is the best tool to be used in your industry, but you could use video to argue that y is in fact better.

Openly criticising a large competitor

Initiating a critique of a large competitor can be a nice, healthy way to introduce controversy into your videos. Obviously, any arguments you make would need sound research to justify your points. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a complete attack. You could frame your criticism within the context of a comparison presenting your audience with a better alternative (i.e. your own products!).


The one thing that studies of viral videos can tell you for sure is that you won’t attract attention from a big audience by accident. You need to work to earn people’s time and a strategised video is far more likely to be successful. Controversy is just one tool available for you to use in your video marketing strategy. Use it wisely.



Author Bio: Neil Davidson is the Founder of My Web Presenters, who are a leading video production company specialising in video spokesperson videos. They work with businesses of all sizes to create and market compelling and emotive videos. They also write a video marketing blog regularly so please check it out.

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1 Response

  1. Nick Simard says:

    Well i am facing the same issue of driving traffic to my website.. while looking for tool i found this post. will try this hopeful it will work and surely will love to publish results here.

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