FeatherPenClipArtThe issue with using controversy to establish a brand is that people get a fairly strong image of you. It means you’re staking out a certain plot of turf to claim for your own. In the case of Mr. Beale, for example, he has staked out a right-wing, white supremacist plot of turf. He has advertised this by making racist comments on Twitter and by getting into squabbles with women he thinks are promoting a feminist agenda. He’s not real friendly to LGBTQ people, either.

Subversion of the Hugo’s is a masterful stroke, whereby Beale not only features prominently in the award nominations, but also creates a huge controversy about the direction of modern SF&F and men’s rights. Various people are now bandying his name about on their blogs, and anyone who wants to vote for the Hugo Awards is valiantly slogging through his books in order to make a decision on how to vote. Mr. Beale now has a national brand and a recognizable name.

This bad-boy strategy is similar to the train wreck campaigns you see music and film stars carry on. The plan is expressed as “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” The thing is, you have to be able to support the weight of this kind of branding. If you create a controversy to attract publicity, then you need to have something to offer the fan base you attract. In this case, Mr. Beale does have books to offer, both his own and those from his publishing house. However, I’m suspecting these books don’t especially appeal to the mainstream of today’s fans. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have to resort to a strategy to get his name on the Hugo ballot. Because of the extreme nature of his brand, the recognition may not translate to greater sales for his intellectual property. He will probably attract only a trickle above the fan base that already knows about his books and their particular political agenda.

Still another issue with this kind of extremist brand is that it may be hard to adjust in the future. The standard for controversial branding seems to have been pioneered by Madonna, who isn’t that huge a talent as an entertainer, but is a mastermind at promotion. Music and film stars, like Miley Cyrus for example, typically do something offensive to attract attention, then soften it in the next step to adjust the brand. However, it’s a little difficult to adjust a brand that’s based on racism, misogyny and homophobia. The lesson is to be intelligent in how you apply the strategy.