First, I must thank the brilliant Lorraine Murphy, a.k.a. Raincoaster, for the title to this post. She came up with it.
Actually, this is the title of the panel discussion Lorraine, Rebecca Coleman, and I are doing for the personal blogging and social media conference happening in Vancouver next week, Northern Voice. And in preparation for our talk, I thought our topic would also make a smashing post title.
Because what is marketing without controversy?
It’s something we all learn at a very young age. Sometimes, if you’re looking to get some attention, finding yourself a little trouble can really do the trick. Whether it’s an in your face temper tantrum or the more subtle constant poking of a younger sibling, stirring things up gets you noticed, good or bad.
As adults, we’re supposed to be above such childish attention grabbing, but we know this is not so. If it were the internet would be a much different, and much more boring, place.
It is still easier to get people’s attention with something controversial or salacious than it is with rainbows and feel good stories (double rainbows exempt, of course). A quick look at the top headlines over at Digg or Reddit makes that pretty clear. But is courting controversy really going to get you the kind of attention you want for your business?
The Result Of Courting A Little Controversy
There are two types of controversy when it comes to marketing, the kind that damages your brand, and the kind that propels it forward. Knowing the difference before you go ahead with your campaign is hard. Many businesses have tried for the latter but wound up enraging a lot of people with their very public screw-ups.
Let’s take a look at a couple recent well-known examples, shall we?
When Trying To Be Funny Further Demonstrates How Shallow You Are
There’s Kenneth Cole’s asinine tweet comparing the Democracy revolution in Egypt to frenzied mall shoppers.
A funny observation, referencing a subject matter that is burning up the social media scene, can sometimes be viral gold. This was not the case. Not only was the joke in bad taste, it took advantage of Twitter’s trending topics by using the site’s hashtag topic aggregator. Anyone looking up information about the events in Cairo, found themselves reading a Kenneth Cole ad.
Yes, Kenneth Cole got a lot of attention from that horribly thought out tweet. Heck, it got me thinking about the brand, having not thought about the shoe company since 1994 when I most likely bought my last pair of Kenneth Cole shoes at some shop in a mall somewhere. The controversy got people talking and googling Kenneth Cole, but not in a good way. I don’t think they sold very many shoes that day.
Using A People’s Plight To Sell Product Is Not Witty
Then there’s Groupon’s controversial Super Bowl ad. The much talked about and universally panned TV spot first captures a viewer’s attention with sweeping shots of the Himalayas and a snap shot of its people. Then, 12 seconds in, we discover that the ad is really for Groupon, and its hot restaurant deals.
Yeah, it’s pretty awful.
Here we see again, a business looking to generate some laughs and perhaps a shot at a viral campaign found themselves having to apologize for using a people’s oppression and suffering to hawk their discount coupons. Yes, people were talking about Groupon after the Super Bowl, but it was not the kind of talk they were shooting for.
Were The Controversy Belongs
When it comes to courting controversy it most certainly is a dance with the devil. And as the comparison illustrates, not worth it.
Should you shake things up in how you do business? Most certainly!
Should you be willing to try new platforms and new ways of communicating with your customers? Hell, yes!
Should you create a marketing campaign that could potentially alienate a segment of your existing customer base so your brand can appear edgy? Have you lost you mind?
Controversy is a path littered with bodies. It’s great for generating a reaction. But a reaction does not translate into sales. When creating any sort of content as part of your business marketing strategy, know you audience. Don’t assume they’ll think you’re witty and cool.
Without good research, you may end up with some unwanted controversy on your hands; and an offended and outraged target demographic. Just ask Motrin.
Guess you can tell what side of the panel I’m sitting on, eh?