Article - Marketing

How To Balance Risk And Reward In Controversial Marketing

The social , economic, and political pressures of 2020 continue to have a lasting impact on consumers everyday. Though the ways that we work and socialize have returned to relative normality in 2021, the role of the marketer must keep shifting to ensure that organizations can still deliver value.

Now more than ever, consumers want the brands that they purchase from to share their values. During July, the communications firm Ketchum revealed that 45% of consumers had changed brand preferences during the pandemic due to brand either failing to appreciate their struggles in relation to Covid-19, or not meaningfully engaging with social justice issues across the globe.

There are many strategies available to the modern marketer to help them to increase conversion and cultivate success during the pandemic. For example, some of the more common methods include the reinvention of brand image, building a resilient brand strategy and creating moments that matter. However, there is another powerful approach that many organizations continue to avoid due to the perceived risk and ambiguity. Whilst there is some truth to this, if you can meaningfully engage with controversy in your marketing, the impact can be substantial.

Risk vs Reward: Engaging with Controversy

Controversy in marketing can be an effective way of getting noticed and this is why some brands purposely pursue opportunities therein. Whether it’s a challenger brand looking to punch above their weight, a charity looking to draw an emotional reaction from their audience, or a large organization looking to recover from crisis, controversy can be a tempting tactic. Offbeat, provocative, and edgy controversial campaigns create an experience that people want to share, however, riding this wave isn’t without its perils, especially at times of great social and economic uncertainty.

The Pros and Cons of Controversial Marketing

Naturally, there are topics likely to divide a room and marketers must prepare before actioning a campaign that enters into controversial territory. To this end, it’s critical that they weigh up the pros and cons of controversial marketing and undertake a risk vs reward analysis:

Reward Risk
  • Controversy = attention – Many of the best examples of controversial marketing are those that demand a double take. The more risqué the creative, the more the consumer questions its position. This makes the content more memorable by default.

 

  • Brand awareness for less – Controversy is a natural talking point and free publicity is the currency of any marketing department.

 

  • Access to an audience – Controversy doesn’t have to be negative, it may be a strong stance in support of values that you and your prospects share. If executed correctly, it can help connect you with them long-term and drive reengagement.
  • Controversy = divisive – Not all publicity is good publicity and if you land your brand in hot water, you could lose more consumers than you win.

 

  • Execution is vital – It goes without saying but controversy can turn away prospects and even loyal customers. Saying the right thing is important but you also need to say it in the right way. If  you don’t you could suffer the consequences.

 

  • The potential for extra work – Controversial marketing has the attraction of economy, of letting you punch above your weight against rivals with bigger budgets. But the increased engagement it brings, good or bad, could take its toll on your resource if you aren’t prepared.

What Does the Research Say?

Research from the Global Strategy Group from 2014 indicated that 56% of Americans believed corporations should engage in dialogue surrounding controversial social-political issues. Despite the age of the research, this trend has held true, perhaps due to the influence of debate and uncertainty across many geographies at this time.

According to a 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study, 64% of consumers around the world stated that they would buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue. Take this with the aforementioned Ketchum study and it seems that as long as a controversial marketing campaign is justified in its invective or ideals, broadly we’re more likely to be interested.

What can we conclude from this?

Whilst working as the UK’s Chief Creative Officer at Geometry Global, Daniel Hennessy, spoke to the importance of controversy. In particular, where polemic applies to marketing he stated, “the cleverest thing an advertiser can do is the opposite of what everyone else is doing, sometimes it’s risky, yes; but it’s better to be talked about than not talked about”.

Whether or not this approach works for your company is a matter for the Chief Marketing Officer and their team to determine. Regardless of the approach though there are three key factors that you must consider, namely geography, size, and audience. Will this campaign work in your country of focus? Is your company large enough to commit resources to the campaign & potential negative feedback? Will your audience like it?

Naturally, the most sensational approach is usually the one that people find most engaging, in this way controversial marketing could be a valuable tool for your marketing team and your business as a whole. Before beginning you simply need to identify the risks and rewards that such a strategy might bring.

GDS Group hosts experts to help experts. We strive to provide an atmosphere for our attendees that enables them to confidently lead their companies through major transformation projects. For information on upcoming events, view our view our Digital Summits. To remain current on our activities, visit GDS Group on LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter.

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