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Is controversial advertising a risk worth taking?


Is controversial advertising a risk worth taking?

Whether you consider it to be a risk or no risk, controversial advertising can lead to significant gains for a company if it is done properly. Whilst it may ruffle some feathers, one thing you are sure to do is grab an audience’s attention and get them talking about you. But the question remains, where do you draw the line? How far is too far? Is there such a thing as bad publicity?

A successful advertising campaign gets their audience engaging with the brand, the company and the advertisement. Controversy is one way to guarantee a discussion. However, it’s subjective to the person viewing it – an advert can be interpreted in many ways, and what one person might find amusing, another could find grossly offensive. The trick is to be clever with your message and imagery, rather than offensive. With 30% of men and women admitting they avoided purchasing from brands with distasteful advertising campaigns, be careful with how you approach your campaign.

VW dealership, Vindis, explore how Volkswagen, a company known for using controversy in their campaign, take advantage of current affairs and potentially bad news, and why they have worked – can other SME’s capitalise on this advertising technique?

Controversy and humour

Poking fun at current affairs is something Volkswagen have a reputation for. Throughout their VW Polo campaigns, they have continued to approach all advertising with the moto ‘small but tough’. In 2014, after an image went viral off an elephant straddling a Volkswagen Polo, assumedly using the vehicle as a scratching post, the brand capitalised the image using it as part of their campaign suggesting that the Polo comes with ‘Elephant Impact Protection as Standard’ – the campaign was amusing to the audience, whilst also relatable and current as the image was ‘real’. Whilst this could have been potential bad news about an elephant getting close and personal, crushing the VW Polo, the brand saw an opportunity to utilise the image in their favour, tactfully making the most of its ‘small but tough’ slogan.

As with most advertising campaigns now, the internet played a major role in the success of the Polo elephant campaign. Had it not been for the power of social media, it’s likely that VW would have not seen the image and the cleverly thought out campaign would not exist. Following the rise of digital media and social media apps, advertisers and brands can use ‘viral marketing’ as a tool to spread information almost immediately.

VW are clever at using the same simple slogan but applying it to more than one situation, allowing each campaign to have a common theme with a fresh approach. Another campaign that saw VW capitalising the ‘small but tough’ slogan was the 2003 ‘Cops’ advertisement. Showing a dozen police officers taking cover behind the VW Polo whilst in a gun battle, the brand cleverly got their message across to the audience – ‘small but tough. Polo.’

By using a model’s best feature to its full advantage in their advertising campaigns, VW showcase why their product is better than the rest. One of their campaigns capitalised on the size of the brand’s supermini. With the tag line ‘one benefit of the new Polo is that you can park it anywhere’, the advertisement shows a VW Polo parked on top of the billboard. Suggesting you literally can park it anywhere.

Is controversial advertising right for SME’s?

Using controversial advertising is a risk – and for start-up companies who don’t have a big reputation, it can be a risk that might not pay off. However, if it does, the gains can be extremely worth it. If you chose to take the risk, there are some topics which you should always avoid. Generally, it’s a safe option to avoid anything to do with racism, sexuality, religion and politics as with these topics, everyone is likely to have different opinion. SME’s in particular should stick to safer topics which you are more likely to get away with a controversial approach. The best way to approach your advertising campaigns is to keep up with viral and current trends. Capitalising with reactive marketing is a great way to drive engagement towards your brand. Reactivate marketing campaigns are designed to jolt the viewer awake – shock adverts catch the viewer’s attention, and usually keeps their attention.

Digital platforms are a great way to push out your campaign without eating into your budget. Make use of your digital presence, especially social media. Whether you are a large corporate business or an SME, Google, and the likes, can’t differentiate between each and treats you both the same – it’s up to the users and readers to choose who deserve the exposure and recognition. Remember, it’s free to set up a social media profile. Whilst you might not have the same budget as a larger competitor, that’s no reason not to be seen, or heard for that matter. Keep current trends in mind, and be clever with your advertising. If you can catch your audience’s attention, there is nothing separating you from the big boys.

I am the founder of Startup Today. I am the main writer and have put in many hours of work into creating this blog. If you want to find out more about me then lets get in contact.

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