With advent of social media, controversial advertising becomes evermore common.

February 19, 2010

Courting controversy. It’s something I’m rather good at. With the advent of social media it’s also something I’d better be very careful with –like ending sentences with prepositions 😉

Lately, I’ve been wondering about courting controversy in marketing. Is it always a bad thing? The French word for advertising is, roughly translated, publicity. And publicity tends to favor controversy. People do too. We are a nation of Gawkers.

So, given clients want eyeballs, it’s hard to walk away from controversy. Especially, now that mass media is hurting and social media is thriving. People go where the action is. More and more advertiser go there as well.

In the good old days of building brands, agencies shied away from “edginess” like the plague. Creative people were forever frustrated by their clients’ fear of pushing the envelope. Brands always had to stand for something good, like truth, justice and the American Way!

But then things started getting nasty. The Internet opened doors previously nailed shut. Pornography and other racy offerings became commonplace and, as a result, more and more acceptable. But desirable?

Lord knows Crispin Porter & Bogusky has made its ample hay courting controversy. The vaguely sinister Burger King. Subservient Chicken. Those hyper-violent commercials for VW. Yes, people came out in droves against these darker offerings but –and here’s the kicker- they came out.

And that makes such burnt offerings, as least by certain criteria, very successful. And desirable. Regardless of what anyone thinks, work like this has changed the game. Clients want to be famous and CP&B’s brand of edginess delivers. People will go to You Tube to watch this content. People will search for it. This cannot be undervalued.

Maybe that’s the key to courting controversy in marketing: doing it right. But what the hell does that mean? It’s easy to see and say that Go Daddy got it wrong. Their commercials suck. And yet, by appearing on most everyone’s worst ad ever list Go Daddy has achieved notoriety. They’re famous and well known. Does anyone care if it’s for sucking?

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4 Responses to “With advent of social media, controversial advertising becomes evermore common.”

  1. Jason Fox said

    Well, I moved all of my domain names to a different registrar years ago once GoDaddy started airing their T&A fests. Aside from that, the question of controversy falls into the quagmire of “it depends.” Sure, a lot of people like gawking at controversial things, but is that helping the brand? In the case of VW and BK, probably. But is that work really controversial in the way people tried to make the Tebow Super Bowl ad out to be (and wasn’t at all)? Not so much. I know some brands, often aimed at over/under-sexed young men, invite controversy as part of their image. But even my 20-year-old self wouldn’t looked at an Axe ad and thought, “Funny, but not buying it.”

    And in an age of trumped up controversy, it’s nice that a spot like W+K’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” for Old Spice has proven to be so popular. Although I’m sure some nut will think a shirtless black guy on a white horse is somehow symbolic of, well, a certain scene in “Blazing Saddles.” It’s true, it’s true.

    Rambling mode off.


  2. SRP said

    Your well-informed rambles are always welcomed here!

  3. Yes, but I don’t want to cover who Paris Hilton or Perez Hilton is dating. Go with the gut and the gut says blood! Lol.

    I wrote this for you:



    • SRP said

      Let there be blood, indeed!
      Thank you for indulging my passion for horror, even if it “spills” into my vocation. How about some dope on the French picture, The Horde?

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