The Streisand effect is the name given for a phenomena that can be used for good or evil – for your own advantage or against you.
In 2003 Barbra Streisand’s lawyer sent a cease and desist letter to the California Coastal Records Project regarding an aerial photo of her Malibu beach mansion on the website. The website operators rejected that letter and all follow up letters and the Los Angeles Superior Court dismissed the frivolous suit.
Here’s what happened: The previously little-known CCRP website includes more than 12 THOUSAND overlapping aerial photos of the entire California coastline. Plus they house an additional 55,000 photos that date back as far as 1972.
Streisand was upset that her mansion was visible in one of these 67,000 aerial shots.
Had she done nothing, likely no one would have ever noticed or cared. But because of the lawsuit, now everyone has heard about the site and the photo. Today, you can find that exact photo distributed all over the Internet.
Anytime anything is censored on the Internet, it’s immediately picked up by other websites. Get it removed from one site, it shows up on 10 new sites. Get it removed from those, and it’s on a hundred sites and in the news.
Banned books become highly popular. Movies that get protested see box office surges. Comedians, musicians and magazine publishers prosecuted for “obscenity” become folk heroes. (Lenny Bruce, Jim Morrison and Larry Flint, for example.)
Watergate wouldn’t have made much more than a ripple if it hadn’t been covered up. But six months of lies brought down an entire presidency.
The examples are prolific and you can find more of them here: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Streisand_effect
Now then – why is this important to you and your business?
Two reasons. First, it can bite you if you’re not careful. Is there something you don’t want known? Did someone say something really rotten about you or your business that people could believe? Then it might be in your best interest not to make a big deal of it.
In the same vein – did you make a major mistake? Rather than trying to cover it up, it might be best to admit it immediately so it never becomes an Internet sensation.
Second reason and food for thought: How can you use the Streisand Effect to build your business?
Every year PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) submits an over-the-top TV advertisement for inclusion in the Super Bowl. It’s often highly sexually-suggestive, and usually the network flat out refuses to run it.
PETA lets it be known their commercial was banned, and overnight it becomes an internet sensation. And they didn’t have to pay the outrageous Super Bowl ad fee, either. Now that’s smart.
Greenpeace wrote a pamphlet critical of McDonald’s. McDonald’s sued and the case was in the news for over 10 years; the longest libel trial in English history. Thanks to the lawsuit, that little pamphlet and its contents became famous.
And the icing on the cake was when the court ruled the activists had not engaged in libel – now the claims McDonald’s fought to suppress had the tacit backing of the English courts.
Books, albums and movies that are banned by churches, religious groups and so forth nearly always see their sales skyrocket with the ensuing publicity.
Are you getting any ideas? I can’t give you a step-by-step here on what you might do – that depends entirely on your business. But you might keep the Streisand Effect in mind.
Sooner or later you’ll find an honest and ethical opportunity to use it to your advantage, and it’s up to you to grab that opportunity when it happens.