Ever been badmouthed, undermined or falsified? Robert Rose shares some valuable advice on the best way to deal with being ‘gaslighted’.


It’s a popular topic in marketing these days. As I’ve previously discussed at length, it might be the biggest opportunity in content marketing. Building trust with audiences is the critical foundation to evolving them into leads, opportunities, customers, and loyal advocates of our brand. So, inevitably, we focus on how to establish highly valuable content that delivers authentic value. It’s all one big happy party isn’t it?

Isn’t it? 

What if it’s not what our competitors are doing?

I had an interesting conversation while I was in Europe recently. A director of communications at a global healthcare company had developed a mature thought leadership program for a new procedure invented by her company. They developed a resource center and a robust media outreach program about it. However, their main competitor had begun to flood the internet with guest posts, magazine articles, native ad pieces, and original “research” offering “education” into how this new procedure was flawed and, therefore, unsafe.

The communications director likened the competitor’s approach to writing educational articles about why going out in the rain is extremely dangerous because you might be struck by lightning. As a result of these (technically correct but misleading) articles, physicians and other healthcare professionals they had engaged were now asking if the procedure was, indeed, safe.  

So, her question to me was: How can you counter a competitor that decides to gaslight your content marketing strategy?

Now, if you’re not familiar with the term “gaslighting”, you’re certainly familiar with the pervasiveness of “fake news” and falsehoods affecting brands. News stories about a meth lab at Walmart,fake reviews on Amazon, and even fake social memes about an “Undocumented Immigrant Day” at Starbucks are just some of the recent examples.

While these recent examples are more dramatic, and certainly easier to see; it’s the more subtle situations like the one the healthcare company faces that are more insidious. Basically, there are only two sub-optimal choices. You either legitimize the competitor’s point of view by fighting it, or you let it go and hope that people will be smart enough to listen to the alternative viewpoint. 

“You feed the flames of the innovation, or the change, and contextualize whatever their point is within the many arguments you are making. ”

My advice is to lean into the second option: a focused and proactive content marketing strategy. It’s time to double-down on the facts, the positive – and have a definitive point of view so that there’s a definitive story. In other words, you don’t fan the flames of debate by writing the “anti-anti-post”. Rather, you feed the flames of the innovation, or the change, and contextualize whatever their point is within the many arguments you are making. 

For example, early on there were trolls who called Content Marketing “bullshit”. Another writer said that content marketing was dead. One writer said that content marketing doesn’t even exist. Now, aside from the existential career crisis this gave me when I awoke to people sending me to this link, the contrary opinion never bothered us. I’m certainly one to enjoy a good debate about the thinking behind the approach. No, it was rather the misrepresentations of the approach, the “they’re selling snake oil” attitude, and the personal attacks made me feel that I wanted to respond. 

The key for us was to not legitimize the debate by engaging here. We would simply focus in on the main argument, never mention the troll by name, and just contextualize the argument into a more positive story.    

Unfortunately, while my colleague at the healthcare company is an early victim of this approach of content marketing, gaslighting from our competitors (or even consumers) is something that will inevitably hit us all. 

Of course a core piece of our strategy is to optimize our content against the competitive popularity of concepts, thought leadership and keywords that our competitors are using. We do, after all, seek to outperform the competition for our consumer’s attention and trust. But, increasingly, as we all look to scale and deepen our content marketing strategies, we’ll also have to scale how to combat the use of content that misinforms our consumers.

It’s a new wrinkle in our effort to create value with content and an added bullet point for the business case of a smart content marketing strategy.

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