Nobody likes a jerk. That’s the general truth we’re told, and it makes sense because jerks are, well, jerks. They’re inherently unlikable. So why are so many celebrities, CEOs, and other notable personalities who are characterized as “jerks” so popular? Take a look at Tim Sykes, who developed a reputation for being a douche bag and became even more successful because of it. Or take a look at Donald Trump, whose brash and boorish behavior likely contributed to his now-stunning shot at becoming president of the United States.
The truth is, being a jerk can actually be good for your personal brand—now let’s take a look at the reasons why.
What Does It Mean to Be a Jerk?
First, let’s examine what it means to be a jerk in the first place. What are the qualities that make someone so jerk-ish?
Opinionated. Jerks tend to have strongly held beliefs, on one side of the fence or the other. People who sit in the middle, or those willing to entertain both sides of a debate, are easier to get along with because they’re somewhat flexible.
Loud. Jerks are also amplified because they have a tendency to be loud. Loud, by itself, isn’t a problem, but it serves as a way to make their “jerk” personalities more grating and more of an annoyance. If a “jerk” kept his thoughts to himself, there wouldn’t be a public perception of him as a jerk.
Stubborn. Jerks aren’t willing to budge very often. They hold fast in their opinions and beliefs, often to the point of ludicrousness. In some cases, this can be a positive trait, such as when a jerk strives to achieve a personal goal, but more often it gets in the way of collaboration and meaningful discussion.
Controversial. Controversial simply means unattractive to some audience segments, or at the very least it implies a degree of debatability. Controversy can contribute to a person’s “jerk” factor, because when combined with loudness and stubbornness it turns people away, but controversy alone isn’t a bad thing—in fact, some content marketing strategies revolve around controversy.
Now why are these qualities, unlikeable on their own, so significant in contributing to a person’s popularity on a mass scale?
Differentiation. One of the biggest challenges for personal brands is differentiation, and being a jerk can certainly differentiate you. Many personal brands go the safe route, sticking with opinions that are already commonly accepted, and remaining somewhat reserved in their behavior. Striving to be louder, and being unafraid to address controversial topics with strong opinions will certainly make you stand out.
Greater visibility. Jerks also have the ability to generate more visibility for their personal brands. For starters, they tend to be “louder,” so they’ll likely appear on more channels and produce more content overall. They’ll also have the tendency to generate more discussions around themselves, and more word-of-mouth coverage—even if that word-of-mouth isn’t exactly positive.
Maverick appeal. There’s a certain appeal to boldness, and it’s why so many people end up in one-sided relationships. People who defy cultural norms and go their own way generate a specific type of charisma, which may explain why so many jerks are able to congregate huge audiences behind themselves.
Selective loyalty. Finally, there’s a degree of selective loyalty that manifests when a typical jerk states a stubborn and controversial opinion. Though the controversial stance may alienate a portion of his/her audience, the portion that remains will become even more loyal to the brand, escalating the average passion and engagement rates of the audience.
Though this article makes being a jerk sound enticing, remember that this isn’t a free pass to be rude or disrespectful. It’s not the fact that you’re a jerk that will get you ahead, but rather, the certain jerk-like elements of your personality that can help you get ahead if you know how to use them.
In fact, it’s entirely possible to exploit these “jerk” qualities in a positive way, such as being stubborn in your pursuit of greatness. We encourage you not to be a jerk, but to learn from the jerks and use these qualities to your advantage.