How to Market Hated Products
Why good products get slammed online
Why good products get slammed online
What do the iPad and Kanye West’s Yeezy have in common?
They were both slammed online for being terrible products when first released (even though they weren’t).
Discussing the iPad release in 2010, tech writer, Timothy B. Lee at Vox said, “I don’t understand who this product is marketed for.”
Memes flooded the internet saying the iPad was only useful as an expensive sanitary towel.
It was a laptop for “idiots with too much money on their hands.” Apple was a “sell-out.”
Apple has sold close to 418 million iPads since 2012.
Kanye West experienced a similar backlash for his Yeezy shoe line. After being over $50 million in debt, Kanye is now a Billionaire. And it’s mostly because of his Yeezy brand.
Despite being slammed in the court of public opinion, both brands have been profitable.
Why Do People Slam These Products?
Being involved with 60–80 product releases each year over the last five years, I’ve witnessed every reaction possible.
In my experience, there are two reasons for online backlash to product releases:
They’re bad, poor quality products… Thus justifying the negativity.
The product's popularity exceeds positioning.
Was the iPad a poorly manufactured product? Absolutely not. So the main issue it had was positioning.
Same for Yeezy. The brand wouldn’t have had as much backlash if Kanye West’s name wasn’t attached to it.
What do you do with the backlash if you’re selling a good, quality product for a fair price? And people seem still to hate it?
The Positioning Paradox for Selling Items
A good product that’s generating sales AND negative attention, equals a positioning problem.
If this is the case, the product is being viewed, mocked, and slandered by people outside of your target market.
It’s not for them. You know it. They know it. Because of the product’s popularity, you’ve reached people outside your target audience and inevitably (and unintentionally) invited negativity.
You fear that negativity is scaring off potential buyers.
Bad positioning happens when your messaging and placement within the market were specific, but due to growing popularity or effective marketing, your audience became broader than expected.
Broad audience + Specific target demographic messaging (positioning) = Massive potential for backlash
I created this graph to break it all down …
The vertical axis is how simple it appears to create that product. Either the idea seems too simple or the product doesn’t seem complicated enough to justify the price tag.
The horizontal axis is the growing popularity of the product.
The bell curve on the graph is the negativity for that product online before it ships (peak) and then after it ships (trough).
As the popularity of a product grows, so does the perception of how simple it was to create, manufacture, and bring that product to the market. People begin to oversimplify its existence.
It’s just a t-shirt.
It’s probably just cheap plastic **** from China.
Only idiots would buy this for $800, you can buy a laptop that does more for $400. Half the price!
This product is a joke.
I’m offended this even exists.
Only non-buyers — those who would never buy the product— are angry and abusive online. You’ve reached them by mistake.
The loudmouths are outside of your target demographic, peering in to signal how much better or smarter they are than those who are buying the product.
Instant coffee buyers aren’t gourmet coffee buyers, but some gourmet coffee buyers seem to viscerally hate the existence of instant coffee.
It’s not for them and sometimes they shame those “lazy” enough to buy it. It’s tribal.
Ironically, if the product is good, this hate only spreads awareness and makes the product more popular.
Those that would buy it, buy it quickly and quietly to avoid unwarranted judgment from the louder, non-buyers.
Swap the words buy for vote and buyers for voters in the sentence above and you’ll perfectly explain the surprise 2016 U.S. election results.
Remember, people vote with their actions, not their words.
Continued sales are the only indicator of a successful product
If you’ve successfully sold your art/vision/product/service to happy buyers that feel like it’s for them, that’s what matters. You’ve found the right target market.
A typical guy that’s not into fashion won’t buy a $300 white T-shirt with holes. To him, the product is stupid, unnecessary, and overpriced. He’s simplified its existence below his point of value.
To someone interested in fashion, with a disposable income, it’s more than a T-shirt. It’s exclusive. It represents something and makes them feel a certain way. The product has been defined above their point of value and becomes a must-have.
If you find yourself marketing a hated product that’s good quality and is generating a good amount of sales, you have two options:
Ignore the backlash from non-buyers. The product isn’t for them anyway. Let their hate drive the clicks that convert others to your side.
Broaden your positioning to include these people and develop messaging to focus on how they could use this product. Invite them in. Their opinions can change.
Speaking about changing opinions, Timothy B. Lee revisited his views on the iPad five years after his initial review:
We all know what happened next: the iPad was a huge hit. And my argument looks kind of silly in retrospect.
In a sense, though, my negative reaction to the iPad perfectly illustrates why the iPad was successful. The iPad wasn’t designed for people like me who spend all day in front of a computer. It was designed for more casual users who value simplicity and convenience over power-user features.
And there are a lot more of them than there are people like me.