What Instagram, Donald Trump, and Microsoft Can Teach You About PR

What Instagram, Donald Trump, and Microsoft Can Teach You About PR

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave with no access to the outside world, you’ve undoubtedly heard that Instagram redesigned their logo and most everyone hated it, Donald Trump said all kinds of crazy shit, and Microsoft programmed a chat bot named Tay that went on a racist tirade just hours after being released.

Instagram logo redesign

There is a valuable PR lesson to be learned from all of these events—and it is that often, when you generate a lot of publicity, you also create a lot of backlash. That’s because massive publicity depends on disruption, which will turn some people off.

In order to build a brand that can generate publicity, it’s critical to be disruptive. You can’t get people talking about your brand by playing it safe.

One of our previous clients struggled with this. They would ask for outrageous ideas to get people talking about their company, but then they would backpedal. Here was their response the last time we proposed something outrageous:

Oh, I like that idea and I can see how it would get the right people talking about us, but I’m afraid some people might not like it. Is there any way we can be edgy without, you know, actually being edgy? Something everyone will like?


Look, if you want people to talk about your brand, you have to be disruptive. That means:

  • completely changing your industry—not just trying to be better than competitors
  • inventing an entirely new product or industry
  • taking a strong position that some people will be passionate about (and other people will hate)
  • saying or doing something absolutely outrageous

Since you probably won’t completely change your industry, invent a new industry, or even invent a new product, that leaves you with two options. Taking a strong position on something, which will rally some people but alienate others, or, saying or doing something absolutely outrageous. Both are easy, inexpensive, and effective tactics that are within the reach of most business owners.

Instagram did this when redesigning their logo. Personally, I think they intentionally made it as ugly as possible to get everyone talking about it, which I’m certain will have a positive impact on new user growth.

Trump, in “reality” TV fashion, did it by saying some of the most polarizing things imaginable, which, sadly, is propelling his political career.

And Microsoft did it by creating an AI chat bot, which was generated massive publicity on its own, then generated even more publicity when it followed SkyNet’s footsteps and turned into a racist psychopath bent on genocide.


Now it’s your turn…