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Controversial Ads

Are they Worth the Risk?

By Mi Brand Co.Published 3 years ago 4 min read
MSNBC (news_melvin_kaepernick_180904_1920x1080.focal-760x428.jpg)

New products and companies are being forced to think outside of the box and are challenged to start embracing creative strategy targeting consumer reaction as a KPI in current and future campaigns. The advent of television, radio, print mediums and now social media, have caused new advertising methods to saturate the market. The potential for wear-out is a crucial factor in the advertising industry, so how does a company make a huge splash, without getting wet?

Advertisements , by design, should be memorable. They are meant to evoke feeling or incite conversation. Some advertisements are controversial because they reflect and resonate with cultural happenings, like Apple commercials while others become more notoriously remembered for lack of strategic or emotional thinking. However, that is usually the point with the more unsavory and shock value driven advertisements, while others are truly unnerved when the public reacts negatively to their bad taste. Controversial advertising is not a new concept and in some cases an entire marketing or public relations campaigns depend on it. When brands do something completely different from the norm, it can be shocking, but does shocking the public really equate to doing good?


The idea that strategizing in order to purposely put out content that is controversial is not faced without adversity. Then there is the notion where an organization will be aware of the controversy surrounding an issue but do not always know all aspects of the issue, for example, if its connected to a social movement, social cause or heated topics of the current time.

There is plenty of room for debate in trying to define Pepsi's Peaceful Protest advertisement. In fact, Pepsi is a brand known to be meticulous in scrutinizing potential marketing plans and public relations outcomes. It would be a huge understatement to say that it was unlike them to produce the ad. But was this disastrous public mistake truly crippling to the soda giant? Stock earnings reports from later in the same year proved otherwise. In fact, Pepsi boasted a 5% increase in quarter sales from the same time the year before and a share increase of 7.1%.


Like so many of us do, Marks, the CEO of French Connection UK, drove to work contemplating new ideas and execution that could ultimately lead to more profits. On this drive he passed an ad depicting an iconic half naked woman. The ad caused him to contemplate how he was branding the French Connection. Trevor Beattie, who created the ad, was contacted requesting a similar and eye-catching advert. Beattie noticed a connection between the letting of the French Connection UK when abbreviated: FCUK, alluding to the cultural implications of cursing. Thus, eliciting controversy with the release of the FCUK FASHION campaign.

The campaign was activated with branding t-shirts, which were priced at 20 pounds and sold over one million units. In the case of FCUK FASHION the long-term results were non-existent. In fact, the advertising term known as wear out occurred very quickly once the public and media channels became desensitized to the campaign. In the long run the effects of this controversial campaign did not last. Other companies attempted to follow the French Connection's example by faking the clothing to match the FCUK marketing, in turn diluting the brand and over saturating the market.


SnapChat, a popular social app, is also added onto the list of controversial advertisers with the release of their "Would You Rather" in app ad. The advertisement asked users to join in on a game of would you rather by choosing between two seemingly impossible choices, slapping Rihanna or punching Chris Brown. The ad immediately caused an uproar with fans, labeling the advert as tone deaf.

Rihanna responded to the ad and ended her cleverly worded statement with "You let us down! Shame on you. Throw the whole app-oligy away."

Snapchat's usage trends are at a slow decline while revenue is being maintained by increasing revenue gained per user. The profits remain the same, however, the value is lost due to the dwindling audience size.

The idea that controversial advertising works to increase brand awareness and generate profit is presumably tied to the brands established success and current likability. There seems to be a trend between controversial advertising and rising stocks, revenue and profit for the company and its investors. For example, Nike and their stock that took a 4% hit after the release of the Colin Kaepernick "Just Do It" campaign. Shortly after its release, the stock then rose and online sales grew by 31%. Three things should be kept in mind:

1) Your organization should be able to afford taking the hit if the campaign fails or succeeds.

2) The advertisers should understand that the benefits for a successful campaign are short-term considering that shock-value eventually wears off.

3) A failed campaign, like in the case of Snapchat, can add to an organizations already dwindling socioeconomic status.

So, are controversial ads worth the risk? The answer is yes depending on the value and promise of a brand. In short, controversial advertising is 2-parts shock-value and 1-part timing and can be beneficial to the financial success of a business.

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About the Creator

Mi Brand Co.

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