Tips For Creating Controversial Marketing Campaigns

Using controversy as marketing may sound risky, but it converts well when you execute your strategy right. As controversial marketing can ruin your brand reputation, it is essential to know the dos and don’ts for a successful campaign.

Hence, here are some tips on how to start a marketing campaign that is controversial and converting! 

1. Choose The Right Controversy Subject

executives in a meeting

Opposed to popular belief, you do not have to reap benefits through extreme controversies. A study by Wharton Business School reveals that while lower controversy levels can help raise engagement levels, but them beyond a moderate level can negatively impact it. 

Therefore, you have to carefully choose the level and subject of controversy, with one that connects with your brand. 

There are three types of controversies to consider for a decision:

  • Shocking/unexpected
  • Taboo
  • Debatable

Shocking and taboo campaigns generate the necessary buzz. However, they do not bring benefits in the long run as debatable subjects do. They allow room for valid and rational arguments between two sides for a good while. Debatable ones are also less likely to trigger offense and have data support for healthy conversations.

For instance, Orea once came up with a marketing campaign around LGBTQ+. The image back then sparked a generation of over 300,000 likes and 50,000 comments. They not only took a stand for them but also made a marketing success out of it. 

2. Study Campaign Results of Your Competitors 

two people studying graph trends

We recommend studying the campaign results of your competitors. Check the controversial marketing campaigns they have used and how it went for them. This way, you can learn from their failures and successes. Add a bit of creativity to create a superior campaign.  

3. Do Not Be Too Self-Serving.

branding laptop in a coworking space

No matter how cause-centric your campaign is, it will always lead back to your brand benefit. However, being too self-serving can cause backlash and do more harm than good. Do not border on superficial and pretentious topics too much. 

We also recommend connecting the controversy to your brand. Do not go poles apart and confuse your viewers! 

4. Be Factual and Not Over-Sensational

the word facts with a magnifying glass

With this one, you can make your campaign as bulletproof as possible. You may look up to the Hotel Hygiene Exposed advertisement by Travelmath. The campaign revealed what hotel rooms are the dirtiest. While it did ruffle some brand feathers, they had all the evidence to back their claims. They also earned the trust of the audience with engagement.

5. Avoid Campaigning Around Religious and Political Issues

businessman with his tablet for digital marketing

Stirring controversy is always the easiest when using these topics. You can say a single outrageous sentence on the internet, and it can create a global drama naturally. Exploiting religion and politics for marketing can only create buzz but not sales. If anything, it negatively impacts your brand image. 

However, this does not mean you can not speak on these topics. We recommend looking up to what Anheuser-Busch did with its Born The Hard Way campaign. It discussed immigration issues without causing harm. It used the story of the founding owner to spark the discussion, attracting more than 21.7 million views in just three days.     

6. Inspire a Respectful Discussion

man’s hand with a bar graph overlay

Put necessary safeguards against mindless trolling by inspiring respectful discussions. ABODO did the same with its study on tolerance and race. This apartment-locating organization highlighted areas that used the most derogatory and prejudiced languages across the country. It gathered over 12 million tweets for this purpose. While the topic sparked a massive debate, it caused lots of engagement. But despite this, everyone praised it for its respectful discussion. 

  • They let the numbers speak. Voicing your opinion is one thing, and letting numbers talk is another. ABODO did the latter and showed everyone that they were factual. 
  • They presented more than one side. Instead of just highlighting stance or one side, ABODO highlighted both sides of the controversy. Doing so helps make your campaign more objective than subjective. They displayed areas with both the least and most use of derogatory language. It also lets it have credibility. 
  • They made their methodology transparent. Allow the audience to know where your stats are. If you came up with it yourself, let your methods be transparent. It shows that your campaign, even if controversial, is factual. 

7. Keep Your Team Onboard

a team onboard 

It is necessary to have your team members on board after launch to make such campaigns a success. Have them lookout for factors that may affect the success with real-time updates. Make sure everyone on the team knows the original idea and branding guidelines. 

8. Have a Crisis Management Plan

a team giving each other fistbumbs 

With such strategies, you will always receive some backlash. After all, there is a reason it is controversial, right? Hence, it is imperative to prepare in advance for a crisis. As controversial campaigns can even lead to brand cancellation, you would never want to miss this. The following are some ways to deal with the backlash and play it right: 

  • Take a top-down approach: The top-down approach refers to company heads responding directly to negative responses in a politically correct manner. For instance, you can have the CEO on board with a prepared statement to help when things go wrong. It shows the audience that your brand takes their concerns seriously, helping your brand image. 
  • Adopt a positive tone: While addressing the backlash, keep your response positive. Issue an apology if the campaign goes too wrong. You can also offer solutions directly to customer complaints. However, this will not always be possible. In such a case, choose your side and stay firm on it by being sincere. Do not keep changing your stance publicly.

The Takeaway

In the current culture of canceling and outrage, stirring controversy and creating a buzz is no longer an ordeal. Controversial marketing campaigns can be risky, causing huge losses. However, they can boost your brand awareness when done correctly. The challenge to execute this marketing strategy is to balance between rousing the public and your controversy. As people are now well-aware of publicity stunts, you have to ensure what you do is not easily traceable. Hence, be controversial but with a purpose, to maximize marketing efforts.

Do check out our guide on how to grow brand awareness via social media.