The Pros and Cons of Controversial Marketing

2 November 2020

To stay afloat in the multi-faceted world of digital marketing, your content needs to make an impact. With more and more businesses investing in their digital strategy, this is becoming a challenge. Brands must come up with unique and memorable ideas to break from the clutter and leave a lasting impression on consumers. There are many routes to take here. One of which is controversial marketing.

Controversial marketing, also known as shock advertising, is a tactic whereby a brand intentionally offends or surprises audience by violating the norms of norms of social and personal values and morals. The aim is to generate debate and discussion, and subsequent buzz around your brand. Sure, it’s high risk. But it’s also sure to draw attention.

Does your business have what it takes to cause a stir with a controversial campaign? Let’s weigh up the good vs the bad.

Pros

It gets people talking

Controversial campaigns are guaranteed to spark conversation whether it’s for the right or wrong reasons. This is especially true today, in a world where we all have multiple digital platforms to share content, voice our opinions and engage in discussion with others. If your brand releases a provocative campaign, you can bet that somebody will have something to say about it. And so the ripple effect begins. Shocking content is ultra-shareable, so if your aim is to create brand awareness, this might be a viable way to accomplish that.

It evokes emotion

Great ads appeal to our emotions. They resonate with us, and subconsciously encourage us to take action. Controversial campaigns tend to take this to the extreme. If content moves and provokes an audience, they’re likely to remember it, along with your brand. While your campaign may not necessarily make them feel all warm and fuzzy, it will at the very least make an impact.

It can boost sales

Even campaigns that are met with extreme criticism can generate sales. Take, for example, Protein World’s infamous ‘Are You Beach Body Ready?’ campaign for their weight loss collection. This sparked public outrage and the brand was accused of body shaming and sexism. Despite its widespread backlash, Protein World managed to rake in a reported £1 million profit against their £250,000 marketing budget. Hey, there’s no such thing as bad press, right?

Protein World controversial marketing campaign

Cons

It has the tendency to offend

Controversial content, by nature, offends certain groups. If a brand challenges the status quo or pushes the boundaries, not everybody is going to be happy about it. We also live in a world where PC culture is rife, and people seem to be more sensitive than ever. Thanks to the power of social media, this can have a snowball effect, and before you know it you’re caught in an avalanche of furious tweets, comments and messages. This can happen even if the offense was completely unintentional. For instance, Starbucks’ Red Cup Campaign was deemed anti-Christmas by religious groups and created some bad blood between them and the brand.

Starbucks controversial marketing campaign

It can damage the brand reputation

A single marketing campaign can make or break your brand. Remember Pepsi’s disastrous Live For Now campaign? The main video, starring Kendall Jenner, was accused of trivialising the Black Lives Matter movement, causing major embarrassment to the brand. The clip was parodied countless times, and Pepsi became the laughing stock of the online world. Within 24 hours of releasing the ad, Pepsi wisely decided to pull the ad and make an official apology. So before you jump into anything, carefully consider the potential consequences for your brand’s reputation.

It might take away the attention from the actual product

One of the dangers of controversial marketing is that it can detract from the product or service that is ultimately being promoted. Don’t shock for the sake of it.  Your campaign still needs to be well-thought out and strategic. Remember, the campaign should put the spotlight on your brand, and not the other way around.

 

Controversial marketing stunts are certainly a gamble. But as they say in business: the higher the risk, the higher the reward. The secret is to find the sweet spot between being edgy and purposeful. You need to back up your campaign with meaning and substance, so that you’re not provoking people for no good reason. Our advice is to hold off on any potential scandals until you’ve established your brand as trustworthy and decent. You tend to get away with more when the public are already on your side.

Don't want to take risks with your marketing strategy? Talk to Elephant. The team at Elephant in the Boardroom are experts in results-driven digital marketing, from building beautiful bespoke websites to creating killer social media content. Visit www.elephantintheboardroom.com.au today for more information.