Your Most Under-Appreciated Asset, and How to Use It

In the winter of 2013, I played the role of Herr Zeller in The Hale Center Theater’s production of The Sound of Music. It was the smallest role I ever played, yet it rearranged my understanding of reality forever.

Herr Zeller is a Nazi colonel in pre-war Austria. For my final entrance, I walk slowly through the audience in full Nazi regalia, complete with swastika armband. The show ran for six weeks, so I made this walk about 30 times. 

Most nights, my final scene was uneventful. One night though, that walk through the crowd was different. 

Very, very different.

Before I finish this story, allow me a brief detour into a different story, one you may have forgotten.

The King of Free Advertising

Loathe him or love him, Donald Trump knew how to get attention. According to some estimates, he got $5,000,000,000 of free media time during his 2016 presidential campaign. That’s “Billion” with a “B”.

Did the media want him to win? Of course not.

So what happened?

Early in his career, Trump mastered an unusual skill; he learned how to create and use Haters. Trump provoked hatred to create free advertising for himself.

He used this technique decades prior to his run for president. For example…

The year is 1986. New York City has tried and failed – many, many times – to repair the city’s Wollman Skating Rink.

Trump believes his company can repair and refurbish the problem rink. He also knows the city fathers will need some – shall we say – “prodding” to award his company the contract. 

So he starts talking. No, let me correct that. He starts mocking. 

He doesn’t mock people though. He mocks the system that caused all previous repair projects to fail. 

He intentionally inflames the passions of both his supporters and his detractors. 

And he just won’t shut up.

(Sound familiar?)

Pressure mounts on city officials to “do something!”

In an act of pure self-preservation, the city awards the contract to Trump. He’ll either put up or shut up. Either way, the city wins. If he fails, that’ll silence him. And if he succeeds, the city will finally have a functioning skating rink.

Trump succeeds. His company completes the project early and under budget. He credits “good management.” 

Everybody wins.

Pressure => Publicity => Profit

Trump let the haters hate on him as much as they wished. In fact, he fed his haters new irritants to inflame them and keep them talking.

Trump knew that if he didn’t upset people, they wouldn’t be so eager to discredit him. In their eagerness to debunk him, they talked about him.

Even though they failed to silence him, his haters wouldn’t stop talking about him. In fact, it seems they couldn’t stop talking about him.

Like some weird outer space creature from a bad Star Trek episode, Trump absorbed negative energy from his enemies and fed on it.

“Reversing the energy” of his haters was always a central part of Trump’s strategy. It worked in New York City in the ‘80s. It worked in the presidential campaign of 2016. And it works today.

Good Girls Go to Heaven

Back to Herr Zeller.

This was my first time  to play a “bad guy.” The experience reminded me of that famous Mae West quote, “Good girls get to go to heaven; bad girls get to go everywhere.”

If good guys get the girl, what do bad guys get?

Every eye in the theater focuses on me – on Herr Zeller – as I stride through the audience towards the stage. 

The part of me that is an actor observes how this crowd responds to the character I play: they despise Zeller. 

Rivers of pure hatred pour from them onto him, engulfing him in a flood of 200-proof contempt.

I stifle the urge to laugh in their faces like the power-crazed maniac they perceive me to be.

In a flash, I perceive the intoxicating truth: 

I am now in complete control of this crowd. They’ve gifted me 100% of their attention, their emotion, even their reason. 

I own them.

We’re taught from an early age to play nice and not make waves, to do nothing that makes people dislike us. That same belief colors most marketing.

It sounds smart, even though it’s wrong.

In his book The Personality Prescription for Contractors, Wizard of Ads partner Chuck McKay observes, “regardless of what we sell, roughly 30% of homeowners are going to dislike us.”

Even the Bible says, “woe to you when all men speak well of you.”

If you want attention, if you want influence, if you want people talking about you, then you need a few passionate haters. You want people who dislike you so much they can’t help but tell the entire world how awful you are.

I call this special class of people anti-customers

One anti-customer is worth a hundred happy-yet-silent customers.

See, anti-customers care. Anti-customers feel compelled to speak out against you. Their passion drives them. And what happens when anti-customers rail against you?

Ah, that’s when the magic happens, that’s the pivotal moment: the hatred of your anti-customers awakens the passions of your happy-yet-silent customers. 

Leverage the Passion of Your Haters

Isaac Newton explained how it works:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Intense passion from your anti-customers provokes an equally intense reaction from your happy-yet-silent customers.

Your happy-yet-silent customers get irritated with the antics of the anti-customer. The more anti-customers talk smack about you, the more your loyalists leap to defend you. They feel compelled to speak out on your behalf and drown out the negative voices.

Anti-customers complain about you. Customers defend you. Prospects hear about you. Interest in you and your offer builds.

If you can deliver a decent product or service at a fair price, then – as Bertie Wooster observed – “Robert is your father’s brother.”

The Right Way to Create the Right Kind of Haters

You want people to hate you for the right reasons. So what exactly are, “the right reasons”?

It’s your values

The haters you want are people who hate you for your values.

So put your values front and center in your marketing. Make it easy for people to identify what you stand for, and what you will not tolerate.

(In fairness, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. But that’s a subject for another time.)

Finally, you must publicize the nasty things your anti-customers say about you. Here’s a perfect example.


For example, email your customer list. Say something like “look at this horrible thing someone said about us!” Copy and paste the hateful words, (not the name of the person – don’t be a jerk.) Then step back and let nature take its course.

Human nature being what it is, your supporters will rise to your defense.

And when they do that – when they defend you in public – thank them publicly and humbly for their support.

Your haters get to talk smack.

Your fans get to defend you.

You become the center of attention.

Everybody wins.