Does it ever pay to court controversy on the social media?

What’s the best way of getting publicity for your brand? Well you could try advertising, or you could simply rely on word of mouth and hope that the absolute brilliance of your product gets people talking about it. Both strategies work in the right context, but unfortunately success can never be guaranteed. So what’s the alternative? Well, you could choose to harness the power of the social media and upload a video to Facebook just as clothing brand, Jacamo, recently did with the launch of its topical and controversial ‘hakarena’ video. The video may have offended many Kiwis, but it certainly caught the public’s attention by going viral. So what does that tell us about the social media? Well, it appears that if you want to guarantee online success, it pays to court controversy.

So what exactly was Jacamo’s social media video about? Well, the video was a skit on the traditional Maori haka. Piggybacking on 2015 Rugby World Cup fever and heightening the tensions between the tournament’s hosts and favourites, the video featured England’s 2003 World Cup winning scrum half, Matt Dawson, and team mates from Battersea Ironsides rugby club performing a mock haka.

The All Blacks perform their version of a traditional Maori dance before every game, a pre-match ritual which usually inspires respect, and a measure of intimidation. But Jacamo and Dawson decided to mock the ritual, producing their own version of the tribal dance, called the ‘hakarena’, which combined elements of the traditional haka with the 90’s dance classic the makarena. The video was shared widely on Facebook and other social media, but was slammed as ‘shameful’ in New Zealand.

Dawson may have described it as England’s own ‘secret weapon’ to match the All Blacks, but his video has been heavily criticised in certain quarters. Dawson, though, remained unrepentant, claiming:

‘The current world champions are in amazing form with awesome power, strength, depth and one secret weapon – the haka,’ he said in the video.

‘They are using it to intimidate us. They think they’ve got an advantage over us. They think they’ve won the game before a ball has even been kicked.’

‘But I’m telling you what, we’ve got our own secret weapon. Have a go at the hakarena; maybe we’ll put the All Blacks off their rhythm.’

However, the viral video was not greeted warmly down under and was blasted as disrespectful by a leading New Zealand politician. Sir Pita Sharples, former co-leader of the Maori Party in New Zealand, hit out at the mocking video, saying:

‘The haka is done as a way of honouring the enemy,’ he said. ‘You don’t do it in those sorts of circumstances – you do it if you’re up for a challenge.’

‘By doing a haka as the All Blacks do, it’s recognising the worth of the other side. So if they’re doing something to mock the haka, then I think that’s pretty shameful.’

‘The haka is very meaningful to us,’ he added. ‘To actually mimic it and deliberately bring it into ridicule is, to me, insulting.

‘The Maoris and New Zealanders in London could react to that big time.’

Was his indignation shared by the Silver Ferns? Well, by and large the New Zealand team took it well and laughed off Dawson’s send-up of their cherished haka, calling the controversial video ‘quite funny’. Speaking at the team’s World Cup hotel in Teddington, prop Keven Mealamu said:

‘I have been doing the haka since I was four in my backyard. It means a lot to New Zealand. It is part of our history and tradition as All Blacks – a special part of our culture. But it’s quite funny seeing him do it.’

However, when asked if Jacamo’s camp take-off was disrespectful, Mealamu declined to answer.

But what about Jacamo? Well, the clothing brand that made the video, denied it was offensive, and claimed it ‘acknowledges the sheer might of the reigning champions’, while ‘having a bit of a giggle’. However, despite their protestations, Jacamo are probably secretly laughing all the way to the bank. The video went viral: they got the publicity they wanted and were able to show their wares on a global stage. Whoever said there’s no such thing as bad publicity?

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