Are Controversial Ads Worth It?


The battle for attention in the advertising world is intense. Companies are finding it increasingly difficult to differentiate themselves from the competition. What is a company to do when the good ideas are either: taken, over-used, or cliché. How do they breakthrough, without breaking?

The growing trend to enter the consumer’s mind is to use controversy to excite, whether it means using humor or anger to grab attention. Controversial campaigns are high risk, high reward, so caution should be used when employing such tactics.

The recent viral advertisement campaign by Kmart, dubbed the #shipmypants ad, uses word play to promote Kmart’s shipping service. The responses have been between calling this ad, a smart, hilarious campaign, to sophomoric and cheap. Regardless, the numbers don’t lie, people are talking. Whether it’s good or bad, is still up for discussion.

Do you believe that any press is good press?

If you intend to use controversy to jumpstart a campaign here are some questions for you to answer. Since controversy evokes strong emotions:

1.Are you being controversial just to be controversial, or does it have a specific link to your brands purpose?
2.Does the dialog relate to your brand message and positioning, or is just a quick hit to highlight something new?
3. Have you prepared for the backlash and unexpected consequences?

When controversial marketing campaigns work, they usually have a high initial response rate but die off as quickly as they rise. So to sum this all up, are controversial ads worth it? In the short run, maybe, in the long run, no, unless you have a plan to continue the conversation. And if you’re going to go this route, do it sparingly as you cannot reliably gauge the response.

At the end of the day, if you are having trouble breaking through the white noise, what will you do? Play it safe or go for it?

Branding is a Matter of Public Opinion

Remember this logo?

The colorful depiction of the 2012 Summer Olympics logo depicted above was infamously met with confusion and controversy and for most, will go down as a major branding mistake.

What was supposed to look like a stylized version of the numbers 2012 turned into a media circus from how people “didn’t get it” to flat out laughter and even a petition of over 48,000 citizens to get rid of the design.

What was the big deal?

Despite the internal support for the design, the masses agreed with Jonathan Glancey of the Guardian art blog, who wrote “The logo fails the Olympics spirit completely. Its component parts are broken apart, while the Olympics are all about athletes, spectators and nations joining together.”

Whether you are a fan of the logo or not, it’s not what we think of our brand that matters but what others believe our brand to be that matters.

Because of all the brand damage and bad press, the Olympic committee started to require Olympic logo designs to follow stricter brand guidelines.

The result has been a more cohesive visual language as illustrated by Rio2016, PyeongChang2018, and Tokyo 2020.

Design is a matter of taste but Branding is a matter of public opinion. What’s your take on this? Leave a comment below.

Why storytelling is key to a brand’s lifecycle


Everyone’s talking storytelling, Really?
You can easily fall into the great storytelling abyss today. Or, you can provoke, inspire and cause your target to stop in their tracks, and leave them intrigued. Wanting to hear more. Do more. And find out more.

For openers try thinking of it in terms of a screenplay. One where you lay out the plot and (use a great insight to) surprise, delight or even challenge the targets current perception of the category or your brand’s place therein. Then do your “big number” and close with access and availability. Some brands totally get it. Do it consistently right…

  • In automotive TESLA does it and is backed up with orders for its new popularly priced car.
  • IBM’s Watson is playing this out beautifully in category after category. Smart and sure footed.
  • In spirits, Jack Daniels tells their authenticity story with down home reality. Inspiring, real and timeless – just like their brand.

So ask yourself, is your brand telling a story? And if so, is it dynamic enough to provoke a reaction from your audience? Is it insightful and relevant? And does it keep them coming back for more?

What Sparks Our Fire? Coming up with compelling and exciting brand screenplays that will last a lifetime.