How to Cope With a Terrible Review

An exterior shot of Guy's American Kitchen and Bar in Times Square, Manhattan Photograph by Casey Kelbaugh/The New York Times via Redux

Critics’ latest frosted-tipped punching bag: celebrity chef and television host Guy Fieri.

Sure, the New York Times suggested that “everything at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar is inedible,” but Fieri is by no means alone. This year, for example, Eddie Murphy’s A Thousand Words (“a tired, formulaic comedy,” as one reviewer called it) scored 0 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and Rolling Stone denounced Lana Del Rey as “just another aspiring singer who wasn’t ready to make an album yet” (and that’s nicer than some critiques on Twitter following her flawed performance on Saturday Night Live).

Might today’s reflexive culture—which thrives on reviewing, liking, commenting, and sharing, often anonymously—have made critics more hostile? What superhuman public figure hasn’t at some point, however brief, been the object of scorn recently (besides Ryan Gosling)?

The bright side is that making a comeback, while tough, is not impossible—consider how far Ben Affleck (receiving critical acclaim for directing Argo and The Town) has progressed since his turn in the cringe-inducing Gigli. Sometimes there’s nowhere to go but up. Here are some tips on how to deal with a bad review.

Count your blessings: Negative publicity not only makes people curious, but also increases awareness of things that previously were paid little attention, shows research by Jonah Berger, assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton School and author of the upcoming book Contagious: Why Things Catch On. Rebecca Black’s Friday (a song that literally points out that “yesterday was Thursday”) may have been ridiculed to no end, but it did make it into iTunes’ top 100 tracks in its first day out. “The review may be the best thing that happened to [Fieri’s] restaurant so far,” Berger says. “This may make some people [who are] into high-end restaurants less interested in going there, but in terms of the overall number of patrons he brings in, I’d be surprised if this article doesn’t help.”

Put things into perspective: It’s not so bad when the biggest danger is disappointing or boring your consumer, says Berger. As the listless say, at least no one died. And when a review seems too punishing, remember: At least you don’t have to smile onstage while Simon Cowell verbally bludgeons your performance on live television.

Heed amateur reviewers, too: Professional reviewers might have reach, but people are more likely to listen to their friends than professional critics, according to Berger. There are many more user reviews overall, and combined, they can have a larger impact.

Don’t suck again: Regardless if the critic is amateur or professional, Berger says the best way to respond is to fix the problem and invite the critic back to try the product again.

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