3 Content Marketing Lessons Learned From Ann Coulter’s Disgusting Behaviour


After the final presidential debate, Ann Coulter initiated a content marketing firestorm when she tweeted:


Immediately, her tweet attracted attention, from journalists, politicians and in particular, the Special Olympics, which a few years ago, spearheaded an aggressive campaign to Spread the Word to End the Word.

I’m not interested in initiating a political debate; I’m not even particularly keen to address the hurtful impact of Ms. Coulter’s very inappropriate tweet (as the mother of a child with Down syndrome, the response from Special Olympics ambassador John Franklin Stephens pretty much sums up my feelings.)

But I do think that there are some really important content marketing lessons that can be learned from Ms. Coulter’s tweet and the ensuing backlash.

And as a marketing professional, I think it’s worth exploring.

Your message matters more than ever before

I hear all the time from clients trivializing the importance of online marketing and social media strategy.

But in the last year, I’ve also seen many crisis-driven responses to unsolicited social media attention, in many cases from those same clients who were so cynical.

Social media has impact; it can give a message legs.

And the reality is that more and more, your target stakeholders are using social media platforms to communicate.  These platforms enhance the public’s:

  • Access
  • Entitlement
  • Awareness
  • Investment

Your message (or even lack thereof) can have impact in the blink of an eye. And if your message isn’t being heralded as something worth discussing, it very well might be your competitor attracting the attention of your target client.

Consider this -

Ann Coulter’s tweet, within less than 48 hours, had been favourited more than one thousand times, and retweeted 3 times as many.

You can use the power of social media to perpetuate a message.

Use the power wisely.

Controversy attracts attention

Now, to be crystal clear, I am not at all suggesting that you insult or demean folks via Twitter.

However, taking an unpopular position on a controversial subject can be really effective. Unlike Ms. Coulter, however, I would suggest that you back up that controversial position with a sound rationale and not resort to childish bullying techniques.

My friend Marcus Sheridan, inbound marketing genius, uses this tactic very effectively.

I’m also not suggesting, by the way, that opposition for the sake of argument, makes sense.

Your position should always be authentic. You must always be true to your brand and your point of view.

In this post, for instance, I wasn’t just seeking to malign other folks in my industry. I was speaking from the heart – I genuinely believe that the corporate sector is riddled with incompetence and mediocrity.

And in fairness, in this post, I’m probably trying to capitalize a wee bit on Ms. Coulter’s controversial tweet – I figure that if there is any good that can come from it, I might as well squeeze it out.

It’s ultimately about the conversation

The most effective content marketing campaigns inspire conversation. That is, two-way communication that promotes a greater sense of engagement and interest.

Here’s what bothers me more than anything about Ann Coulter’s tweet.

It could have been an opportunity for further conversation and growth.

It might have provided a forum for learning and education. It did for Lady Gaga. It did for Lebron James. It did for Kirstie Alley:

In Ann Coulter’s case, heartfelt and meaningful conversation might have even given a lift to her plummeting books sales (can’t say I’m terribly disappointed about that unfortunate trend :-), especially since I suspect it was her motivation to use the word in the first place).

But rather than engaging in dialogue, and accepting John Franklin Stephens’ invitation to learn more about the Special Olympics, Ann Coulter responded with:

The only people who will be offended are too retarded to understand it.

Can’t imagine that really endeared prospective customers all that much. I suppose my advice here is to do the OPPOSITE of what Ms. Coulter did.

Understand your target client’s pain points and frustrations and demonstrate an empathic interest.

Your turn

Did you catch Ann Coulter’s tweet? Dare I ask what you thought? Do you still underestimate the impact and importance of content marketing?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below, and give this post a little share if you found it useful. It would also be great if you liked our new Facebook page – there is an easy-to-use widget on the right.

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  •    Reply

    Great post! I don’t even know who she is, but I had to come over and find out. What we say on any social media outlet can have a catastrophic backlash if it insights drama. I can’t say her words affected me in anyway, but it did for others and that ultimately could slap her in the face.

    Your brand is you whether you like it or not and what you say and how you say it can hurt your brand. Politics are a touchy subject with people anyway and I always think those conversations are best left in person. The right thing to do is for her to make amends to the people that it might have offended and move on.

    •    Reply

      There was actually a lot of discussion on Twitter about the fact that Ann Coulter tweeted from her personal Twitter account and not a corporate branded account. But I agree with you Sonia – you ARE your brand, especially in today’s day when social media blurs the lines so dramatically. That’s why jobseekers are cautioned about their use of Facebook. As I wrote in this post, social media creates increased access and entitlement – and TRANSPARENCY. Be prepared to back up your message!

    •    Reply

      You don’t know who she is? How’d you get that lucky? lol

  •    Reply

    I like Ann Coulter and usually appreciate her sharp wit. I don’t think she meant to insult anyone but Barack Obama, but this was indeed a poor choice of words.

    Before Facebook, Twitter, DVRs and the 24-hour news cycle, public figures could say stupid things and the fuss (if there even was one) would be over in a day or two. Not so today. It’s not fair, but it is the way things are.

    Excellent post. Thanks!

    •    Reply

      The fact that there is greater exposure and access today, as a result of social media, just means that public figures need to be more accountable to their message. Another reason why the message matters more today than ever before.

      I agree it was a poor choice of words (to say the least), and Ann’s feelings about the President notwithstanding, it was a pretty juvenile and desperate insult in my opinion.

      I can’t help but wonder if she deliberately used the word to attract attention – which I suppose is good strategy on her part if she was looking to create some profile and exposure for her ‘brand’.

      Thanks for your comment Jacquelyn.

    •    Reply

      Hi there,

      I’d never heard of Ann Coulter before reading this post and wasn’t aware of this infamous comment. If she’s usually renowned for her sharp wit, I think she failed miserably with this one – it was a pretty lame joke, coarse and cruel, in my view.

      Even if she was only intending to insult Obama, I think she should have had some sensitivity to other people who might have been upset and offended by her comment.

      Her subsequent response to John Franklin Stephens is even more crass and offensive than the original tweet – he was offering her a helping hand out of the hole she’d got herself into but she just went right on digging.

      Sad – and depressing,


      •    Reply

        I know Sue – the response stung even more since it was CLEARLY intended to hurt. It did nothing more than confirm Ms. Coulter’s intention of being controversial and provocative in the meanest of ways.

        Definitely sad, but I suspect Ms. Coulter is quite pleased with herself.

        Thanks for commenting Sue; hope to see you back!

  •    Reply

    Must say, when I heard the name I thought it was the Mrs Coulter character from His Dark Material trilogy. What an incredibly crass thing to say though.

    It’s interesting because my latest blog was about how you manage employees that have a large following on social media. You can imagine the shitstorm that would be created if they started writing garbage like this.

    •    Reply

      Ya, Google her a bit Adi – you’ll be amused for hours! This is HARDLY the most crass or controversial thing that she’s said/tweeted. In fact, as I’ve pointed out in another comment, I’m pretty sure that spewing crass comments is a key part of her marketing strategy. It’s an implicit part of her brand. Much like those shock jocks – but she just tries to position herself as more sophisticated.

      I read your blog post, and you are right – the lines are becoming blurrier and blurrier with each passing day. Not just employees – we see the same conflict with CEO’s of major corporations or athletes on professional teams, who have to do damage control after they’ve humiliated their corporate brand with something they have said/tweeted/posted personally.

  •    Reply

    Very interesting discussion Ruth and thanks much for the kind words tool

    There are so many things I could say here about this topic but this point remains:

    If we have a choice not to offend, but can still get the same message across, then we should choose not to offend.

    As a renegade of sorts, I’ve walked this line many times with my content. But this is also why I don’t think it’s necessary, nor smart, to drop F-bombs when we write or speak, even though some may think that is “funny.”

    In my mind, I always go back to the question above.

    Poor choice by Coulture. But then again, politics this season has seemed to bring out the worst in so many. It’s like Lord of the Flies….without the class.

    Great stuff,


    •    Reply

      “Like the Lord of the Flies…without the class.” I love you. Brilliant.

      And that’s a pretty fabulous gauge when deciding what language/message we want to perpetuate. It’s really not that difficult to take the high road – even when you’re being provocative or controversial. In fact, I would argue that if you can push buttons WHILE STILL being respectful, you have even greater impact.

      My mother once told me that the person who raises their voice first loses credibility in the argument. Similar standard, right?

      Thanks for stopping by Marcus – hope you’re having a great day.

  •    Reply

    What you say online stays online and you definitely cannot take it back Ruth!

    I’ve heard so many times that if you want to be noticed, say something controversial. Obviously, I don’t want to be noticed all that much because it’s just not my thing I guess.

    I’m not familiar with Ann and I didn’t see the tweet but from reading it I immediately took it as an insult to Obama. She could have used words that wouldn’t disrespect others and still get some attention. But with her reply coming back like she did, she just stabbed herself in the foot.

    To me she just ended up hurting herself more then helping. Or shall I say, the people that’s she’s now attracting she will probably regret.

    I agree, get yourself out there and bring more attention to you and your brand but do it respectfully. My goodness people, this is the 21st century and you just can’t say stupid things anymore because you’re having a moment! There are way too many people who can be hurt from it. Hope it was worth it for her.

    Thanks Ruth as always for bringing such an important topic to our attention.

    Enjoy your week.


    •    Reply

      Oh, there is not doubt that Ann was intending to insult the President. And whether or not that is appropriate (even if you take issue with his policies) is a different debate entirely.

      But her particular choice of words insults not only the President, but all people with developmental disabilities (and their parents frankly) who shudder when that word is uttered.

      Ann is all about attracting attention, so in that sense, she accomplished her goal. But I agree with you Adrienne that there is a fine line between ‘attention’ and ‘the wrong kind of attention’. Social media and content marketing strategy can help attract either kind…and I say you should strive for the good kind!

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your comment, as always!

  •    Reply

    I don’t catch any tweets unless I’m mentioned; should I follow more interesting people?

    Actually, I’m addressing my lack of awareness in my post tomorrow.

  •    Reply

    Ann Coulter always makes a point of saying things to deliberately offend people and that is what I have the most problem with.In many instance, I would qualify that approach as closer to hate speech. I agree with you – I love Marcus Sheridan’s approach on always talking about the good, bad and ugly and would highly recommend that individual’s and organizations use his approach which is never designed to hurt another but to solve real problems.
    Thank you for a wonderful idea for a post and I love the way you made the connection with lessons that all content marketers can take away from this exchange.

    •    Reply

      Marcus has mastered the controversial headline, that’s for sure!

      I definitely don’t walk on eggshells when it comes to stating my opinion, but mean spirited insults are unnecessary in my opinion.

      Thanks for your comment Gazalla!

  •    Reply

    As a content marketer, sometimes creating some form of controversy to draw attention could be a good thing. But like you said it should be done with caution. In fact, I’m writing a post presently that borders on some form of controversy because I’ve just seen the opposite side of some generally accepted norms amongst bloggers and internet marketers and I’m writing a post on this. I don’t know if it will be able to catch on the fever but I do know many will want to talk about it!

  •    Reply

    Ann Coulter tries to be a shock jock for her extreme views. The less attention paid to her the better.

    Yes, she says hurtful things all the time about innocent and vulnerable people. But the more we shine a spotlight on her vile opinions the better she likes it.

    She is vicious and smug, a bad combination.

    •    Reply

      I struggled a bit with that Carolyn – am I actually giving Ann Coulter precisely what she wants by featuring her name in my headline? Perhaps…

      But my disgust with her tweet notwithstanding, I was really struck by the social media impact if her message. Another indication that the marketing landscape has changed dramatically.

  •    Reply

    Uuhhhg! Enough with the Thought Police!

    We don’t all agree. We don’t all use the same language. And we shouldn’t have to.

    A certain minority segment of our society, primarily motivated by their religious views, targeted Howard Stern because they didn’t like what he said or the language he used. And this minority successfully manipulating the FCC into essentially driving Stern off terrestrial radio — despite an estimated 10 million daily listeners.

    Guess what:

    The radio has dial. If you don’t like what you hear, change it.

    Not into FX’s racy content? Change the channel (there are hundreds more to choose from).

    Don’t like what Ann Coulter Tweets (I can’t imagine who does…)? Unfollow her.

    Anyone who honestly thinks Ann Coulter can be censured in any way by a “critical backlash” for using politically incorrect language is terribly, terribly naive — her business, her Brand, thrives on negative attention from “elitist liberal” (the language she would use to spin any “backlash”) who disagree with her.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree about this incidents effect on Coulter’s books sales, because I guarantee in the long run this will help, significantly more than hurt, her cause and her bottom line.

    If you want to put Ann Coulter out of business — I’m talking to you Special Olympics for foolishly being sucked into the non-sense — ignore her. Because all this attention from everyone screaming and crying and carrying on about her antics and prejudice language only serves to add more and more and more zeros to her bank account balance.

    You indicated this topic was part of a completely different debate, but you opened the door… You’re Canadian, so perhaps there is some disconnect, but this country was founded with a violent revolution, by men who vehemently disagree with and frequently insulted their so-called leaders. In fact, they believed it’s the duty of “We the People” to rise up against the tyranny of oppressive leaders — the Right of Revolution being one of this country’s key founding principles.

    Your suggestion that it’s inappropriate to criticize or insult (which is a form of criticism — I certainly insulted GW Bush at every turn far too stupid to be President and for completely drove the country off a cliff) is incredibly dangerous. That line of thought is a key principle in the political philosophies underpinning Nazi German, Stalinist Russia and Communist China.

    •    Reply

      Wow, for someone in marketing you certainly took a major chance with your comment here, especially since you decided not to address her topic and go off on a rant about something completely different. And then didn’t use a real name, hiding behind the logo; I’m sure your clients benefit greatly from your attention.

  •    Reply

    You misunderstand…

    I never suggested that Ann Coulter should be censored (or Howard Stern for that matter). It is is her right to say whatever she pleases. And it is my right to respond with this blog post. And it is your right to share your comment.

    And I didn’t suggest that it’s inappropriate to criticize or insult. I believe what I said was, “I would suggest that [if you do] you back up your controversial position with a sound rationale and not resort to childish bullying techniques.” I do believe that Ann Coulter’s tweet (while indeed critical and insulting) is also pretty empty. It came off as desperate and certainly not within a broader context that was meaningful.

    For the record, I’m not particularly ‘liberal’. But I am a mother, and one of my daughters has a developmental disability, and I can vouch for the fact that words hurt. And particularly, I find the notion that being ‘retarded’ (or like someone who is clinically retarded) makes you a ‘loser’ (Ann’s word, not mine). No different than the notion that being ‘gay’ means you are weird, or being ‘lame’ means you are incompetent or that “Jewing something down” means you are cheap. Words have power. I’m not the police, I’m just stating a fact. I think it’s an undeniable fact – though I don’t suggest that Ms. Coulter should be censored or arrested or punished.

    All of that said, I’m inclined to agree that the better strategy might have been to ignore her altogether.

  •    Reply

    Douche. That’s it, that’s all.

  •    Reply

    Wow! Phenomenal post, and I must say I was not aware of this recent controversy… Oh, well, maybe it’s because I’m Canadian (alluding to a comment made earlier, there…)

    I gotta agree, though, that using catchy titles or stirring controversy is a time-proven tactic to get instant exposure. Also, news-jacking, when done well, can usually serve to propel a story or point of view. But it’s a dangerous game to play if the social media community manager doesn’t play by certain rules, as Kenneth Cole found out during the Arab Spring, if you recall that story…

    Just to conclude on this matter, personally, I don’t know who Ann Coulter is and I have no intention to Google her up to know more about her. Anyone who refers to their president as a retard, on the public scene like this, is not worth 2 seconds of my time.


    •    Reply

      Frederic – I’m also Canadian, so that’s no excuse :-). But I’m actually pleased that you’re going to continue living in ignorance when it comes to Ann Coulter. You’re not really missing out on anything :-).

  •    Reply

    This is the first time I’ve seen this tweet and I haven’t heard of the discussion either. Right now I feel that I’m living in a completely different part of the world :)

    What you’re saying makes a lot of sense. Controversy attracts attention, no doubt about it. But what we need to think of is why we are doing what we’re doing. It’s no point in being controversy if it’s not part of a plan and that we want a discussion and the discussion will be a favorable one for us.

    Very interesting post Ruth, and the comments are very interesting as well.

    •    Reply

      Yup – empty insults really don’t serve much purpose in my opinion. Certainly thoughtful debate (even if it’s provocative and controversial) is fabulous and effective, but mean spiritedness is really unnecessary. Thanks Jens for your comment – hope all is well with you!

  •    Reply

    Like Jens I see this tweet for the first time (maybe I can be excused as I am an European) and I even do not know who she is nor do I have any inclination to do so. Argh, how stupidly or schemingly some people behave. And to make matters worse or is she only confirming what some people already know she follows with a retort about retards – oyoyoy.

    Ok, so controversy attracts attention but this is clearly in bad taste and disgusting. Cheap to play on negative emotions in order to win a bigger audience.

    Great post, Ruth, there is so much fodder for thought in it, thanks!

  • Christine Cooper November 3, 2012 at 11:03 am


    Thank you for this post. I found it to be well written, thought provoking and discussion worthy. I also found the ensuing comments to be quite insightful because I believe that Ms. Coulter’s behaviour is something that people more often than not want to discuss. To the gentleman who suggested that we “change the channel”, to you I would say this. I don’t follow Ann Coulter on Twitter and when Ms. Coulter made that outrageous and unacceptable comment, using the “R” word, it was splayed across just about every newspaper, magazine, television and radio station in North America. So to suggest that we simply just ignore is pure silliness on your part.

    A true test of our belief in the constitution that guides our country is the tolerance of freedom of speech, even when those moments make our stomach churn and fill our hearts with outrage. I am not a fan of Ann Coulter and her ilk (Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ezra Levant, etc.) but they have the right to write and speak freely. Then in turn, as you so aptly pointed out, we have the right to say “that is just wrong”. So you are within your rights to say “sorry, this isn’t acceptable” and I say good on you. You speak, not only as an offended person but also from a personal perspective and I value and respect that perspective. I work in mental health and I am often astounded at that ignorance that people display when they misuse words like “schizo” and “psycho” as adjectives. It is hurtful and when you don’t stand up and say “hey, that isn’t right” then we become complicit in that behaviour sending the message that this is acceptable, when we all know it isn’t. Freedom of speech flows two ways.

    I have heard many outrageous statements come out of Ms. Coulter’s mouth over the years. Everything from suggesting that Muslim’s use flying carpets to travel, calling John Edwards a faggot, telling a university student to “take a camel” and even insulting a U.S. veteran during a satellite discussion about landmines not realizing that he had actually lost his legs in battle after stepping on one of their own landmines. I doubt very much there is not any single group of citizens that Ann Coulter has not belittled, berated, insulted or horrified. Ms. Coulter has been hired, fired, re-hired, re-fired by many mainstream news outlets (both television & print) because at the end of the day, she draws controversy, reaction, outrage, but most importantly, viewership, like a moth to a flame. Therein lays her power. I consider many of those mainstream media outlets literally as pimps, with little to no moral spine, other than to serve their own purposes of building numbers in the blue book of ratings. Hence the flip flopping.

    Ms. Coulter’s product is controversy. As much as I personally find her abhorrent, she is smart, savvy, well-spoken (when she sticks to the topics) and has made a very good living from being such a polarizing force. I believe that every single one of her books have all made it on to Best Seller’s Lists and her speaking engagements are all SRO. That is because, we all want to read or hear the next “shock statement” out of the loose cannon that she has become famous for being. It has become our expectation. Even when her statements are mired in anecdotal vitriol and do nothing more than to help keep her in the mainstream media spotlight, she is ultimately laughing all the way to the bank. I think it was interesting that Ms. Coulter’s most recent insult came smack dab in the middle of her book and speaking tour. Coincidence? I think not. Press, even bad press, can be good press.

    I do believe though, that this latest display of ignorance and non-repentance on her part, has perhaps put a dent in the side of the more conservative Republicans who have often rubbed their hands in delight at the deliciousness of her viciousness. I think you would be hard pressed to find any Republican anywhere who would publicly admit to supporting her outrageous, hurtful and ignorant comment. I’m quite certain that the 1000 “Likes” of her twitter comment came from those who I would refer to as the “eggheads” or the bots, which if you follow Twitter at all, would understand what I’m referring to. I also believe that this latest incident might just be the stepping over of the line in the sand and that after the smoke from the election clears, Ms. Coulter may perhaps find her mainstream media gigs, not quite as high in demand. One can remain hopeful.

    Finally, as a Mother, I would say to you…. you go girl! Say what you need to say. If I were in your shoes I’d have probably invited Ms. Coulter to a good old fashion UFC bout and have done everything I could to have kicked her ass to the curb. That of course, is my Momma bear side speaking.

    What ever you do, don’t stop writing.

    Most respectfully,

    Christine Cooper

  •    Reply

    To get this out of the way, I hate her with a passion.

    Beyond that though, she’s found a way to extend her 15 minutes by saying stuff I’m not sure she really believes, or at least probably doesn’t believe as strongly as her words. She’s provocative and controversial and goes on TV shows where she knows people are against her and likes it; she might as well be a bad guy professional wrestler.

    And yet, I know there’s a lesson somewhere in there about self promotion and getting the word out, and thus making yourself influential and giving yourself the possibility of making more money than the norm. Unfortunately, I can’t see it other than being hateful and being hated, and I’d rather not go that route.

    •    Reply

      Thanks Mitch for taking the time to comment – your disdain notwithstanding :-).

      I don’t disagree with you (needless to say), but I am fascinated with her social media savvy. I only wish that more folks with noble intentions had those insights – which is why I wrote this post!

  •    Reply

    From a marketing standpoint, we all need to be extremely aware of ourselves and our words. Social media is immediate and public. And sometimes “oops, sorry” doesn’t cut it.

    It is holding us more accountable and that’s especially true of those who are well-recognized. The celebrities, politicians, etc. Social media is not a living room full of your friends. It’s a diverse public and you’d better be cognizant of how you’re representing yourself, your beliefs and your brand.

    In the case of Ann Coulter, I think she is cognizant of what she says and says it with every bit of disdain she has for anyone who does not think like she does. She doesn’t need to apologize because she’s saying exactly what she believes. Look at the chicken guy and his anti-gay comments. He said exactly what he believed and there was no need to apologize. The day that either of them – or anyone else who speaks anything controversial – are held accountable and begin to feel the sting in their reputation or pocket book is they day they will trot out some hypocritical apology.

    I think most social gaffes are just someone who was trigger happy on the keyboard and forgot they were speaking in public. That’s where we have to be careful, big and small biz alike.

    •    Reply

      Thanks Carol for your comment. Indeed, words have power, perhaps today more than ever. And I agree of your assessment of Ann Coulter – she isn’t sorry. Her words were very deliberate. And perhaps she has her reasons. And maybe she is pleased with the ensuing backlash. Her tweet wasn’t a ‘gaffe’. But, like all content shared today, it had implications and impact. And there is what to learn in that regard.

  •    Reply

    Nice sharing , i got more knowledge by these conversation

  •    Reply

    Nice conversation
    Very interesting post Ruth, and the comments are very interesting as well.

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