Shock or Shlock: Does Controversial Marketing Actually Work?

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One of our readers (thanks, Roxanne!) pointed out this muy interesting blog to us via email which outlines 9 memorable ads for less-than-memorable products. Yep — the slutty burger commercial, the blasphemous ice cream ad, the creepy little girl torturing the baby chick… they’re all here. The one thing all of these ads have in common is the temporary sizzle they caused in the online marketing world. Yet at the end of the day, who really cares about Paris Hilton and Carl’s Jr.? Anybody? Nobody? That’s what we thought. But there’s something to be learned from intentionally titillating and contrived controversial ad campaigns.

The three-ingredient recipe to get your ad talked about consists of the following items: Sex, race and religion. In other words, everything etiquette experts tell you not to talk about at dinner parties are also the makings of a much-buzzed-about campaign. Parents groups and conservative journalists love to get their panties in a twist over racy, sexual and subversive ads. But while creating such a campaign pretty much guarantees people will be talking, it doesn’t always translate to sales.

Initially, of course, things were different. Calvin Klein paved this now well-worn road three decades ago with his brand’s half-naked supermodels who looked barely old enough to enroll in middle school. At the time, the campaign brought in millions of dollars in sales. Yet as the ’90s ended, so did the planet’s interest in bottles of Eternity cologne. Today, a PR coup for Klein consists of getting name-checked in a Gaga video while pretty much staying off the radar. The lesson here is if you have a product that people love (like Calvin Klein), shoppers will continue to follow you regardless of naked models or tired religious imagery. Online marketing, social media marketing and digital branding platforms must be carefully deployed to plot out your business’ online image.

Bottom line, selling out who your company is for a couple of quick headlines isn’t edgy or controversial — it’s just dumb.

But let’s hear from you readers: Has a controversial marketing campaign ever made you run out and buy the product? And is there anything actually truly shocking left to put in an advertisement anyway? And do you, like Roxanne, have a blog or topic you wants us to yammer about? Let us know in the comment section below!


  1. says

    THANK YOU for your comment on the bad grammar in this article. I know deadline pressure may lead to an occasional typo, or even a slip in proper diction, but this set a high water mark for lack of education in someone who believes herself to be a writer.diablo 3 gold

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