THREAT OF PUBLICITY

In small communities where people tend to know each other, publicizing the acts of wrongdoers may significantly change their behavior. Such a system of social control normally would not work for individual deviance in a large urban industrial society. However, negative publicity may well influence large companies selling widely known brand-name products. For example, the publicity surrounding the secret internal documents of the Ford Motor Company on defective and recalled Pintos, which showed that needed structural fuel tank improvements at the cost of about $11 per car and which could have prevented 180 fiery deaths a year, resulted in a significant drop in market share for the company (Fisse and Braithwaite, 1993). As another example, Volkswagen sales dropped precipitously after it became known in 2015 that the auto company had cheated on diesel emissions testing (Noskova, 2016).

Perhaps the most potent tool in any administrator’s hands is the power to publicize (Gellhorn and Levin, 1997). A publicity release detailing the character of a suspected offense and the offender involved can inflict immediate damage. For instance, just before Thanksgiving in 1959, the U.S. secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare virtually destroyed the entire cranberry market by announcing at a press conference that a cancer- producing agent had contaminated some cranberries. The effectiveness and power of publicity as a control mechanism were again confirmed by the announcement that botulism in a can of soup had killed a man. The publicity led to the bankruptcy of Bon Vivant Soup Company (Gellhorn and Levin, 1997). In some cases, however, firms that have a monopoly on their products, such as local gas and electric companies, are not likely to be hurt by adverse publicity.

 
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