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Controversial Marketing

Controversial marketing_SIBM Pune_ Team SymStars

The best way to market the unmarketable, is to create a controversy around it!

If there is one individual in our school/college life who we all remember, it is generally always the truant of the class. The toppers generally tend to fade away over time but the truants somewhat always occupy the ‘niche’ in our mind. The same is true for advertisement as well. The ones that leave a mark on us are the ones that stand out from the herd and largely, the reason for the same is the element of controversy attached to these ‘special advertisements’. Thus, it doesn’t come as a surprise when AdAge chose one of the most controversial advertisements by Dove (Dove: Campaign for Real Beauty) as the best advertisement campaign for the 21stcentury.


“Controversy is the new black. It gets people like us to talk about advertising.” – Tony Granger. The statement by the COO of Young and Rubicam, the subsidiary of the largest advertising group, WPP Worldwide, itself speaks volumes about the relevance of the word controversy in today’s time. The world is moving from news, where we get to know what people did, to gossip, where we get to know how much they enjoyed it. These factors put together, serves as the perfect breeding ground for controversy to not just be born, but to thrive and this thriving ground is too hard to miss for marketers who love to capitalize on the same.


Why controversial marketing makes sense?

As the maxim goes, the best commercials are those that get people talking. Further, it makes enormous business sense as it’s better to get noticed somehow rather than not being noticed at all. According to Unbounce, 98% of the paid advertisements are a ‘colossal waste of money’. Upon dissecting further, this figure makes sense as well. Only 2.8% of the advertising on internet makes sense to users (Infolinks Further, more than 50% of the clicks on the banner advertisements are accidental in nature. On an average, 100 hours of content is uploaded every minute on Youtube. In the face of these statistics, there arises a desperate need to differentiate from the herd which becomes precisely the reason why controversial marketing is becoming a rage.


United Color of Benetton – Unhate Campaign

This campaign tops the list of controversial marketing for virtually all charts ever since its launch. The winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes among a host of awards, this campaign redefined ‘controversy’. It showed world leaders kissing each other including even the Pope locking lips with the Egyptian imam. The controversy became an instant hit for Benetton and it became the most viral advertisement campaign for the company till date. The company further, integrated the campaign attacking racial discrimination was well received by the masses thereby providing just the right fillip for the campaign. A colored woman feeding a white baby while exposing her breast became an instant attention grabber.


The obvious reaction of the masses was “What?! A breast?! Uncensored?!”. The attention was enough for Benetton to convey the message and the subtlety coupled with the power with which Benetton sent across the message was commendable. The results are for everyone to see. The campaign increased the Facebook likes for Benetton by 60%. Further, the campaign became the 5th most searched item on Google and Twitter for one week.


The McWhopper Burger

The audacity and the chutzpah with which Burger King pulled off this stunt at the World Peace Day was amazing. The alliance of McDonald and Burger King by the latter was considered as hara-kiri by many at the initial glance but the positive response and the support for the campaign generated tremendous positive buzz for the brand. The buzz was enough to dismiss the terse remarks by McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook.

Controversial marketing has always come as a double edged sword, it can either brutally damage your competition or the company might end up getting brutally damaged. Thus, as the success stories goes, there are also instances of controversial marketing gone bad.


Budweiser’s #upforwhatever Campaign

Budweiser’s #upforwhatever Campaign drew major flak for the company on the social media. Budweiser had launched the beer bottle which read as “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night”. The campaign came across as promoting rape culture and was pilloried on social media, with Alexander Lambrecht, Vice President of Bud Light, having to step in for damage control.


Calvin Klein SoHo Advertisement

In the era of ‘catch attention first and make sense later’, Calvin Klein probably crossed the line a bit too far with this campaign. The sight of a bill board at one of the most prominent locations in the world showing a threesome, blurting out, the audience wasn’t too impressed and expectedly, the advertisers had to face the brick bats. Further, many felt that it wasn’t in line with Calvin Klein’s core product, its merchandise.

Controversies today are unavoidable. Therefore it only makes sense, to turn them around and use them as a tool, a marketing tool!

  • Team SymStars

232 thoughts on “Controversial Marketing

  1. well written but I still doubt whether in country like india the ads will face “intolerance”…jokes apart good examples.

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