Do you guys know what outrage marketing is? Just in case, let me try to summarize it. It’s when a company creates an advertising campaign or even a product itself, that they know will be very polarizing to the public, in order to (at least in part) generate outrage in some faction of the customer base.

The outraged portion of people will then becomes vocal and if the company is lucky another faction will oppose them. This makes word of mouth spread exponentially faster and have a hugely wider reach and can even make the campaign somewhat self-sustaining as members of the public keep arguing over it long after the commercial has aired.

It was periwinkle! no way It was cerulean

From what I understand, it is currently one of the most effective marketing methods out there that can yield an amazing return on capital, when done right. When done wrong you risk royally annoying and alienating all of your potential customers, which isn’t great…

I’ve been seeing a similar phenomenon in anime except, much weirder. It’s as if I was watching outrage marketing, without the outrage (and up to a certain point, without the marketing either). I find this phenomenon pretty interesting. I figure it must happen in other communities as well, but I have personally seen it most often and most obviously, with anime watchers.

don’t worry, it’s going to be ok

Some of you probably already know what I’m talking about. At least, I hope I’m not the only one that has noticed this. For the past year or two maybe, I regularly see anime fans defending series against outrage that either hasn’t happened yet or is so disproportionately minimal compared to the response, that it seems just odd.

This season, I have seen posts and tweets and essays defending Redo of the Healer, and I have yet to see a single attack on the series. This actually happens for at least one show every season, so I figured maybe I was not seeing the attacks. But a search for the anime name on Twitter yielded the same results, not a single outrage tweet unless you count an ecchi reviewer who called it lazy bottom-tiered storytelling. But that sounded more like exhaustion than outrage.

Of course, fans went absolutely insane with the saga of Interspecies Reviewers. However, the show was simply moved to a subsidiary and I noticed that all the bloggers that had access to it didn’t lose access so the practical implications were minimal. It was more of a question of principals. And that’s fine. But the outrage at the outrage certainly did an amazing job getting, what I am to understand is a fairly average series, onto the radar of every anime fan out there for a little while.

I still think it looks fun

I also remember a lot of posts really aggressively defending the fanservice season 1 of Fire Force. Telling people that disliked it, that they didn’t understand anime or Japanese cultural traditions. That’s the polite way of saying it, it got a bit heated. However, most of the “outrage” I did see was exactly the same as I voiced at the time (I was part of the outrage on that issue). Basically, fans felt the fanservice for one character wasn’t handled very well and was doing a character a disservice and getting in the way of their development. Pretty much all of these “outraged” fans were actively watching and enjoying Fire Force.

That outrage was, for the most part, soft constructive criticism about a singular particular use of fanservice in a show that also used fanservice on most other characters without any criticism.

Now I don’t think it was deliberate on the part of the studios or anyone associated with these shows, but I’m sure all of these series got a popularity boost just from having so many people talk about them and “protect” them. Now imagine if a studio figures out how to harness that!

just sayin…

I’m not a huge fan of outrage marketing. I think there’s really way too much overreaction in the present climate, as it is. Also, I find it particularly manipulative, even for marketing. But even I would be impressed if a company figured out how to properly generate outrage without the initial outrage.

I’m not sure if it’s possible to do that on purpose. It seems like the sort of situation that simply can’t be manufactured. But if it could, the anime community would probably be one of the best places for it.

For better or for worse, we are protective, arguably overprotective, of our beloved medium. It really doesn’t take much for us to go on a crusade Which is amazing stuff for anyone trying to sell us something. Kinda. Some of us are also really passionate about not paying for anime which is less amazing for selling stuff but that’s a completely different discussion.

anime fans are a spectrum!

I’m honestly super curious about how one would create an atmosphere that would mobilize a community to vocally defend an anime even if it doesn’t get attacked. Because if they can crack that nut, then it could be used for all sorts of shows. You’d have people passionately defending the latest shonen or standing up for March Comes In Like a Lion! Preemptively getting ready to battle the hordes in the name of To Your Eternity! And I think that would be kinda cool.

We need to calm it down a bit. It’s a touch aggressive for my tastes as it is. However, can you imagine opening twitter and discovering a bunch of anime you have never heard of because you have a bunch of people proclaiming how great those shows are or tenderly telling you all the reasons you should watch them?

And on a business level, that would that the industry would have this great source of publicity that it doesn’t need to spend any money on. That’s a bit of a dream but it’s a nice dream. I wanted to share it with you.

31 thoughts

  1. Good post! I guess one of the reasons is the reasons this happens is that, specially north americans, are tired of things being deemed dangerous to children and offensive just because of sex or nudity.
    I think after a while, the fans got so used to having to defend their shows, that they started doing that automatically, even before the outrage starts. And to be fair, even though we haven’t seen much outrage directed towards Redo or Uzaki, but we are seeing more and more instances of censorship, be it politicians trying to control what we consume (i.e Australia), or companies trying to play it safe and censoring material (i.e. Seven Seas).

    1. I think the prevalence of information has made it more obvious but I’m not sure if censorship is on the rise. There seems to be a lot less than 20 years ago.

  2. I think a lot of this pre-defense posting is bleeding from other sites onto places like twitter.
    I’ve seen this going on for ages on tumblr with various fandoms. It seems to stem from the idea that eventually everything gets cancelled at some point. So fandoms are trying to earn brownie points by owning up to issues that their series has before the internet at large finds them. It’s honestly annoying at this point because every story has flaws, and that’s okay.

    I also, personally, think a lot of these posts are stemming from fans who, I perceive, make very quick but unhealthy attachments to certain anime or characters. I know I’ve seen this behavior in the SK8 fandom on tumblr. It’s fun to joke about how x character or x series is your “emotional support” character/series. But there’s a lot of fans who don’t understand that phrases like that are a joke, and take it seriously which feeds back into the perceptive ‘defend the thing I love before someone attacks it’. That’s just my speculation though.

    I think by and large Karandi said it best, but too many people don’t know the difference between criticism and an attack. In response to not knowing this difference, more people are going on the defense about their particular series.

    1. tumblr is such an interesting microcosm. It plays by slightly different rules but also condenses a lot of tendencies making them easier to notice.

      1. Tumblr is both an interesting and terrifying place to be part of fandom on there. I definitely agree that everything gets condenses and repeated so many times that the patterns come out and you could probably carbon date the site by those factors. lol

  3. I suspect you are being too generous in thinking that this is a subsidiary phenomenon and not one that is driven by the industry – or parts of it.

    Or perhaps I am too cynical.

    Frankly, however, I suspect outrage marketing is an extension of an old, old advertising maxim – that all publicity is good publicity. Moreover, it is particularly keyed into the “bubble mentality” that our tribal, fragmented culture has produced – and about which I commented on in one of your previous posts. Our social immersion in “reality” TV and social media makes outrage marketing especially suited to our times.

    What I suspect is happening – at least, in some quarters – is that people or groups associated with some studios are being retained or commissioned to generate publicity by manufacturing a scandal where none exists. Hence the outrage you noticed in the absence of any actual criticism. It is not about a dialogue, it is about capturing our attention, precisely because our attention has now become a marketable commodity.

    To my mind this is nothing more than an extension of what tabloid TV has already been doing for decades, and which began with those daytime TV chat shows in which people would end up coming to blows over utterly inane “issues”

    But as I said – might be too old and crusty and cynical! 😛

    1. You call it cynical but I would be super impressed if studios were actually subtly leaking the idea of potential outrage to the English speaking world without leaving any evidence behind in order to start a counter-outrage mouvement to bolster interest. That’s twisted but still begrudging respect. You got to be pretty amazing at your job to come up with that and pull it off.

      1. Hmmm…I suspect it’s been going on in one way or another for quite a while,,,and we haven’t noticed in part because we’re not paying attention, and in part because they *are* good at their jobs…

  4. Redo of Healer is basically depravity porn. People aren’t going to single it out, really. As an example, the first episode of Redo of Healer didn’t get all that bad a response on Animefeminist, and only got recategorised into the “Pit of Shame” after the second episode. The comment section of episode 1 is an interesting read, too. Generally, the show doesn’t go over well, but it doesn’t seem to give feminists the same kind of vibe that Shield Hero did.

    Personally, I was far more uncomfortable this season with Mushuko Tensei, even though it’s the far better show, good enough for me to watch a second season without question, while I’ve dropped Redo of Healer, then picked it up again out of morbid curiosity, and then dropped it again. It’s all in the framing. Redo of Healer doesn’t bother trying to make us root for the protagonist. He’s completely broken, doesn’t care about people, only treats them well if he gets something out of it, and has some sort twisted sense of poetic justice that he himself describes as an “aesthetic” in one episode, rather than as a moral compass. Most of the villains so far are worse, true, so you could cite that as evidence. There are hints in the show that the show thinks the enviroment makes the person, and in a twisted environment anyone is either broken or twisted and many are both. As far as I watched there might be one, maybe two characters who are still intact, but that might be because I didn’t see enough about them.

    Mushuko Tensei, it seems to me, gives the protagonist a skeevy side, acknowledges that side as skeevy, and then manipulates the plot in a way, so that it allows him not to learn to get better. At least that’s what I got out of the first season. That element receded after a turning point, so it’s possible that either there will be a learning

    It’s really hard to explain stuff framing, especially to people who are afraid you want to take their shows away from them. So people think Redo of Healer is more extreme, contentwise, than, say, Shield Hero, therefore there must be more outrage. But I think Redo of Healer is much more upfront about what it’s about, so nobody’s tempted to watch it, and few are going complain about it, because there’s no concept to ruin.

    Personally, I think online outrage culture is a result of people bringing their meatspace habits to text space, but there’s far less of a clearly demarcated “social space” online. Basically, people talk to each other like they would in the pub, or in an academic meeting, or wherever else, but they’re really doing so on a stage. The usual public/private distinction works a lot differently online. We’ll probably figure it out eventually.

    I personally think Twitter is an awful place for discussions, and like/dislike buttons interfere as some sort of visible social currencies even on blogs and message bords if you enable them, and it lingers and has cumulative effect in a way little has in meatspace. It’s interesting. I’m hardly an expert, since I tend to stay away from most social media, only really occasionally replying to forum threads and blog posts.

    Also visibility of outrage tends to be influenced by search algorhithms. On youtube clearing cookies helps a lot; less so on google. But as a rule of thumb, the more rage links you click on, the more you’ll find in the future. So some people might visit the same couple of sites again and again and feel there’s a lot of outrage, but it’s really search engine re-inforcement? Not sure, but worth thinking about. For example, I heared there was a lot of outrage about Uzaki-chan, but I’ve never experienced any first-hand. I’ve seen a lot of people talking about it, though, both the pros and cons. A lot definitely depends on where you go.

    1. I also have never seen any particular outrage against Uzaki-chan but I have seen tons of defense posts. Maybe my problem is opposite, I read so may “counter-outrage” posts that it’s the only side of the argument I see and it looks quite odd in a vacuum.

  5. Not every criticism is an attack and many people can dislike something or criticise it without being ‘outraged’. While it is fine if someone else wants to counter the criticism or discuss the more positive aspects of an anime what we see more often is what you describe in the article: two sides screaming into the void that they are right without actually engaging in any kind of meaningful dialogue or interesting debate. Worse when one side is screaming but there’s no one evdn countering or particularly caring.

  6. This approach to marketing is subject to the law of diminishing returns, which is why we’ve seen it escalating. It’s rewarding the wrong behaviors. That’s probably what bugs me the most about it!

    “I’m honestly super curious about how one would create an atmosphere that would mobilize a community to vocally defend an anime even if it doesn’t get attacked.”

    If you replace “defend” with “promote,” that’s pretty much just talking about a show you like! By that, I mean a show’s most effective marketing is to make a seriously good show. Then people will speak well of it.

    At least, that’s an optimistic viewpoint!

    It’s like trying to cheat at SEO. Just write good content and the rest sorts itself out!

    Again, I might be a tad optimsitic.

    1. Yeah but then people will only talk about after having seen it. How do you get them to talk about it before it airs?

      1. I catch your meaning now — thanks. It’s the need to generate pre-airing buzz that is the focus here, isn’t it?

        I understand that marketing a new show is hard. I wish they could find a way that didn’t involve catering to the the more base instincts.

        If they had a lot of confidence in the show, I wonder if they could do something they used to do with movies (and maybe still do for all I know): Host pre-release screenings for influencers. That could start the ball rolling in such a way that as those influencers promote interesting shows, more people would listen to them, and their influence would go.

        Seems like it might work, anyway.

  7. The most effective protest is to simply not watch. If you must say something, say it was boring, low-quality production, etc.

    I wonder if the outrage isn’t often just posturing for a particular audience. Works, whether you are an SJWs or a right-wingnut or any other kind of clique. “See how politically correct I am? I’m a good comrade to my internet bubble!”

    Surest way to make a work gain lots of viewers is the attempt to censor an existing work, either de facto or de jure. (Look at the surge in sales of certain problematic Dr. Seuss books.) Everybody then wants to see what the fuss was about. Even if there is no effort to censor, jump up and down shouting about how it *might* be censored or that certain unspecified people *want* to censor. That can work too.

    The thing is that REAL censorship means the work was probably never produced to begin with so there’s no outrage button to press. Much more difficult to get people excited about abstract and subtle rules if what they are seeing is still entertaining.

    1. But criticism isn’t protest. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pointing out elements you think can be improved in a production. In fact, it can lead to some really interesting discussions. And it doesn’t mean one didn’t enjoy the end product.

      I was actually writting about the interesting phenomenon of getting that “Surest way to make a work gain lots of viewers” without the original outrage.

      Now anime is very heavily censored, more than a lot of art. I mean there are three entire and very popular genres that are entirely a product of censorship but most fans never complain about that deeper and more systematic censorship. I figure they don’t even notice it. I mean there’s so much propaganda it’s difficult to even know where to start, right.

  8. Business practice doesn’t always involved good ethics, it seems. It sounds like the anime community can fall into a group of fanatics that can be easily exploited just like with any other communities. That in itself should make anyone weary about their own reaction when they are feeling attacked. No one likes to be manipulated for sure.

  9. It’s easy to have a kneejerk reaction when you feel strongly about a subject. I’ve found myself getting a bit too close to doing that sometimes, and I feel the need to draw back. As far as outrages over censorship and calls for censorship go, it’s really important for fans to pick their battles. You’re right to draw a distinction between constructive criticism and trashing of anime — there’s a big difference.

    It was pretty funny to see nobody give a damn about Redo of Healer, anyway. A few people jumped the gun on that one.

    1. It’s calmed down now but when I wrote this post a new Redo protection post or thread was coming out daily.

  10. Yeah I’ve noticed this too & it’s very annoying. Makes it next to impossible to put constructive criticism out there without ppl thinking I’m part of some nonexistent “outrage.”

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