Shep Gordon had a big problem.

His client Alice Cooper had finally made it in America. Not only that, but Shep had landed them the gig of a lifetime--a headlining spot playing the ten thousand seat capacity Wembley Arena in the UK. Unfortunately, they had only managed to sell five hundred of these seats, and there was less than a month before the big show.

Shep had been in a similar spot before. When he had first started working with the Alice Cooper Band in Los Angeles, the mellow Southern California audiences hated their harsh garage rock sound. Never one to be deterred by something as unimportant as musical ability, Shep pushed for the band to compensate with an increasingly theatrical live show. It wasn't long before an Alice Cooper performance looked at lot more like a circus freak tent than anything resembling a contemporary rock concert.

Somehow it worked. Shep's band of freaks soon became a nationwide sensation. But it wasn't entirely by accident. While other managers worked tirelessly to get their acts reviewed in youth-oriented publications like Rolling Stone, the manager worked just as hard to drum up negative press in Time, Newsweek, and BusinessWeek.

It was Shep Gordon's singular mission to make every parent in America hate his band.

The Power of Outrage

Which brings us back to England. When faced with a potential showbiz calamity, Shep Gordon once again made a conscious decision to forgo winning over a new audience directly. Instead, he commissioned a photo of the lead singer, sprawled naked, with only a boa constrictor covering up his most sensitive area. With that taken care of, he had the photo blown up to billboard size and carried on the back on a truck through Piccadilly Circus (the most highly-trafficked area of London) during rush hour, at which point the truck inexplicably broke down.

London plunged into chaos. A line of cars snaked (no pun intended) for miles out of the heart of Piccadilly. News helicopters broadcast the image to households across the nation, sending respectable Englishmen into apoplectic fits. Parliament discussed banning the group from the country. Newspapers featured gems like: "Ban Alice the Horror Rocker. He's Absolutely Sick."

As for the kids--they loved it. Alice Cooper's newest single rocketed to the top of the British charts. And Wembley Arena--they sold out the entire venue.

Why Having Enemies Rules

Shep Gordon instinctively knew what neurologists have since confirmed. Human beings are driven to define themselves as part of an in-group, which they see as existing in contrast to some "other." In the case of Alice Cooper, the other was parents. The band's antics earned them the outrage of moms and dads everywhere, which is exactly what made kids identify with them so much.

Regardless of what business you're in, there's a lot to learn from Shep Gordon's approach. Often, when struggling to sell our products or services, we double down on the approach of telling everyone how great our stuff is. In doing so, we forget that people are bombarded by self-serving messages all day long. As a result, they learn to tune those kinds of messages out.

On the other hand, our brains literally cannot disregard messages that tell us to take sides. While most marketing advice tells people to tailor their pitch to a target audience that is most likely to like what you're selling, there is more to it than that. What promoters like Shep Gordon intuitively understand is that it is equally important to determine what you are defining your product or service against. That is, in many ways, the most important ingredient in creating a real hit.

To read other installments of Hype Men, go here, here, or here.