Toilet Paper Roll Content: How Controversy Creates Content That Spikes Traffic
There are as many theories as there are so-called experts on what makes content go viral. The timing, the frequency, the format, and so on. A singular theme unites them: People don’t want more of the same thing. They want something different.
And while they appreciate you for helping them discover the next big thing, they value knowing what’s better. Dynamite, as they say, comes in small packages. Like maybe about the size of a roll of toilet paper.
I have an opinion about this
People charged with creating engaging content often approach this challenge by coming up with a clever way to present a well-worn subject. Their reasoning is that all it’ll take is a different spin. With all due respect to witty writing and unique images, it’s nothing more than more of the same old…stuff. Otherwise known as “putting lipstick on a pig.”
How do you sidestep this? The easiest way is to stir up some good old fashioned controversy. Not the aliens among us kind of controversy. That’s sensationalism – and that’s also a great way to dismantle the authority you’ve spent so much time building with your content.
Instead, pick a subject congruent with your product or service that people hold strong opinions about.
Like toilet paper.
(Stay with me.)
Head to the planet’s favorite social media site and type “toilet paper orientation” in the search field up at the top next to that familiar blue f.
You’ll be rewarded with an impressive stream of posts on the topic featuring two important elements:
1. Strong opinions
2. Loads of sharing
Social media wasn’t the impetus for this raging debate. Back in the days when newspaper was the undisputed king of media, advice columnist Ann Landers divulged that the toilet paper over/under debate got more responses than any other column she published it in 1986. It received over 15,000 letters.
You can’t say that!
We know what you’re thinking. Interesting example…but how to I apply these principles? Fair question. It gets back to small things.
Research from Wharton Business School reveals that people actually don’t like to discuss highly controversial things. This seems unlikely when you look at the rants and raves on social media, but according to the study, “controversy increases likelihood of discussion at low levels, but beyond a moderate level of controversy, additional controversy actually decreases likelihood of discussion.”
So, toilet paper wins. Here’s why:
- Everybody can relate to the topic
- There are 2 obvious sides to the controversy
- Nobody gets too upset about it – because it’s toilet paper
Putting toilet paper to work for your content
There are low-level controversies galore to be extracted from your product or service. Start with the aspects of your brand that have binary elements – meaning there’s mainly two ways of thinking about it. Then look for a way to create a debate about this based on one of these three things that people have strong opinions about:
When the subject of your content introduces a division in one or more of these 3 areas, your audience has a binary choice. They will want to either disprove the conclusion of your content, or they’ll seek to confirm it. The controversy pushes them to action. Either choice is a win for you because your content is shared.
This brings up an important addition – and one that isn’t open for debate. Every piece of content you create is meant for interaction and sharing. None of it is just “push” for consumption only, right? Just checking.
But everyone must love us!
Really? The same way everyone loves Apple and Starbucks and Whole Foods and Uber and Tesla? These mega brands thrive on fomenting the kind of low-level controversy we’re talking about. Starbucks doesn’t obsess itself into paralysis wondering if the holiday design for their cups will upset a subset of their customers.
If you set out to create content to please everyone, you will create value for no one. Content that stirs successful low-level controversy creates debates that people care about, but those debates won’t seriously offend anyone.
Don’t wimp out and play the “we’re not taking sides” game. Do cite credible sources, and provide equal argument for both sides. Your customers – and your detractors – want you to have strong opinions. It’s how they convert you from a high concept into something that fits (or doesn’t) into their worldview. Your sales funnel doesn’t work without it.
There’s big difference between controversy and scandal. We know the difference, and we never cross that line. We do, however, look for ways to engage our clients’ customers by providing them with thoughtful ways to share what’s different. It’s some real tasty bacon.