It is no secret that companies have used shock tactics in their advertising campaigns for years. The idea is, by displaying something controversial, more people will start a discussion around the controversy and the company name will always be a part of that discussion, thus boosting exposure and hopefully increasing sales.

It sticks with the notion of ‘no publicity is bad publicity’: as long as people are talking about you, in a positive or negative way, it doesn’t matter, as long as they are talking about you.

With social media, controversial advertising spreads like wildfire. But it seems everything today can split audiences down the middle. Are we all so evenly split on everything or do people just like arguing for the sake of arguing?

With people so quick to comment, retweet, repost and get into heated debates and online trolling over the smallest discretion, some marketing campaigns see this is an advantage to create controversy and boost their sales, others just get caught up in controversy by accident.

How can controversial marketing benefit and damage companies?

There are three main types of controversial campaign:

  1. Taboo Campaigns
  2. Shock Campaigns
  3. Debatable Campaigns

Taboo and shock campaigns are created in order to provoke people into starting a commentary and can actually be a huge risk for a brand to undertake; if the provocation causes customers to turn on you, your entire brand can be ruined overnight.

Companies aim more towards debatable campaigns, where they pose a rational and valid question, providing both sides of the story to a current problem and allow people to discuss both sides of the story.

You will probably be familiar with Skittles’ campaign where they remove the colour from their packaging and its contents in support of Gay Pride Month and their image of the rainbow flag. To many this is an issue that should be commended, after all, backing gay rights and supporting the lives of millions of members of society shouldn’t be that controversial right? Well, many people came out on social media to condemn Skittles and their parent company Wrigley UK for supporting a cause that they deem wrong.

Although a lot of people on social media claimed they would boycott purchasing Skittles in the future, support for Skittles’ campaign was actually overwhelmingly positive and was a risk that definitely paid off for the brand who, even though they lost customers, actually gained more than ever before.

Get in touch to discuss the marketing potential for your company.



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