What are the Pros and Cons of Controversial Marketing

Marketing is the most important tool for any brand.

Marketing can make or break a brand in the market. Marketing basically means content, and this content is used to create brand awareness.

But most importantly the main job of marketing is to stir up the audiences and leave behind an impact in them.

When a brand is trying to make an impact on the audience, it cannot just feed content to the audience. It has to be interesting enough for the viewers and the target audience to take notice and engage in conversations about the brand.

Now when a brand is trying to create awareness to promote its sales, it comes up with marketing campaigns that might hurt the interests of a certain group of people.

A lot of brands think that controversial marketing is the most effective way to leave an impact on the audience because as a consumer, the audience wants something controversial that would stir up discussions and conversations.

There are lots of pros and cons of this kind of marketing, i.e controversial marketing or shock advertising. But first, we have to know what exactly a controversial marketing is.

What is Controversial Marketing?

Controversial marketing is also known as shock advertising. This basically means that the brand deliberately offends or takes its audience by surprise by violating the norms of social values, personal values, and morals.

Brands adopt controversial marketing to break out of the clutter of the contemporary form of advertising and create a buzz and capture the attention of the audience, even if the way to do it is not very correct.

Shock advertising or controversial marketing is not just used to raise awareness about a certain brand; it is also used sometimes to bring attention to a public service issue, a health issue or some social cause.

For example, the advertisements that you see that asks you to put on your seat belts or that use graphic images and ask you to quit smoking are perfect examples of how controversial marketing can be used to draw attention to a social cause.

This form of marketing uses disturbing and explicit graphic images or video representations that might be inappropriate for a certain section of the audience.

This kind of advertising also sometimes includes provocative or bold messages that might challenge people’s normal understanding of things.

These kinds of marketing campaigns not just insult people, but might also scare them off using scare tactics to deliver a message or to sell a product.

What are the Different Types of Controversial Marketing?

Controversial marketing is a very broad term with numerous aspects to it. While the basic idea is to create controversy among the public, there are several ways of doing that.

These may include disregard for tradition or laws, some nude or vulgar sexual content that promotes obscenity, define social and moral codes, define religious and political norms, or simply displaying texts or images that promote horrible or repulsive ideas.

Some products are themselves ‘looked down upon’ and are considered as unmentionable. These kinds of products build campaigns that might not necessarily promote controversy in their advertising campaigns but since they are controversial themselves, it still serves the purpose of controversial marketing.

For example, cigarettes, condoms, oral contraceptives, female hygiene products etc. are some of those ‘unmentionable’ products that are controversial in themselves. Some marketing campaigns may also use bold or vulgar language in their campaigns to spice up the interest of people and hence raise brand awareness.

Does Controversial Marketing Show The Brand In A Negative Light?

A lot of companies or brands think that controversial marketing will not be good for the health of the brand.

They think stirring up controversy to promote their brands will show the brand in a negative light.

But what these people and brands do not understand is that controversial marketing always does not have to be negative.

There are different types and forms of controversial marketing that we have already discussed, and how will the impact on audience depend on how the idea is projected and executed.

A brand can promote controversial marketing even in a positive way. These are the two positive ways in which brands can adopt controversial marketing.

Shocking campaigns:

A brand can reveal shocking details to the public and then promote their own brand as to how it is different from that idea. In these kinds of campaigns, the brand in question focuses on a social norm that has been existing for decades and breaks that myth. This shocks the audience and that is how they get aware about the brand in question.

Taboo campaigns:

Brands like that of female hygiene products or sanitary napkins focus on the taboo that exists in the society about menstruating women. This particular approach has proved to be very successful because there were so many taboos existing in the society that these advertising campaigns are now targeting upon and breaking the myths.

What are the Pros of Controversial Marketing Campaigns?

Now, this is where we come to the most important part of this topic. With everything that has been said about controversial marketing, we need to know how and where it is bringing a positive effect on brands, or whether if there is any positivity at all. Here are a few pros of controversial marketing.

1. Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign:

This is a great example of controversial marketing. In fact, one of the biggest reasons for his win at the presidential election is the marketing campaign that his team developed.

They used shock advertising and controversial marketing to build Donald Trump’s image of an outstandingly bold politician. That created his image of a trustworthy politician who is excessively bold and does not fear about speaking his mind. This, in turn, attracted a lot of voters and supporters.

2. They catch public attention:

That is, to say the least. In fact, the entire point of building a controversial marketing campaign is to catch public attention.

The general tendency of every human being is to be attracted to drama or something controversial or at least something that is different from the conventional norms.

When brands do their proper research and target one area that will create controversy, irrespective of how many groups of people they are hurting, what we get is an effective shocking campaign. That is what makes the brand the talking point among its target audience.

3. They evoke strong feelings in public:

That is what a brand aim at when they are designing a controversial campaign.  A campaign that is shocking takes people by surprise and that is when strong feelings or opinions are evoked in them.

The reactions might be extreme, both positive and negative, but that means people are getting aware of the brand. That is what the primary aim of every brand is.

When people are so strongly opinionated and are talking about one particular brand or campaign, it automatically shoots up the sales of that particular brand.

4. The brand identity is intact:

Controversial marketing makes sure that the brand is not deleted from the public’s memory for a long time. When a brand is investing its time and money in designing a campaign; it would want maximum returns from its marketing campaign.

Returns not only mean brand awareness and a boost in sales, but a brand would also want that, it stays in the people’s mind for a long time. This is exactly where and how shock advertising serves the purpose.

When a consumer sees something unconventional or is shocked by something, it stays in their mind for a long, long time. Half the work of a brand in promoting itself is done right here.

5. It generates word of mouth like nothing else

Word of mouth travels faster than any digital media.

When one consumer sees something different or shocking on the television or the internet, it makes an impact on him and he would want to share it with others.

This is how the idea and concept of that particular campaign travel from one person to another and that boost up the public’s interest in a matter of just a few hours.

Within a few hours, a huge chunk of the target audience of the brand is already talking about the brand. The buzz that the brand wanted to create with its controversial campaign is already created.

6. It arouses responsive behavior in the public:

That is what the main aim is, right?

When everyone is talking about one brand, people will buy that product more and the sales will boost up.

The impact that the campaign creates will stay fresh in the public’s mind and they would want to try the product in question.

What are the Cons of Controversial Marketing?

The cons of this form of marketing are perhaps more important than the pros.

Once a brand knows the cons of some aspect of marketing, it will be fully prepared for the consequences before diving into a new horizon.

Here are the few inevitable disadvantages of controversial marketing.

1. Hurt people’s sentiments:

We have already established that fact. When a brand challenges the conventional and already existing social and political norms, there are certain groups of people that are bound to get offended.

For example, when Starbucks announced their anti-Christmas campaign and were serving beverages in red cups, it did hurt the sentiments of a lot of Christians and they turned away from the brand.

2. The outcome might not always be as planned:

When a brand adopts the controversial form of marketing its products, it obviously wants the best out of it.

The brand already knows that it is going to drive away some traffic, but it knows that the positive outcome will override the loss of traffic. But things might not always go as per the plan.

A lot of times brands do not understand the perfect way of portraying a controversial idea and end up hurting a lot of people, stirring a rage among the public that might even lead to the consumers boycotting their products. So the risks are huge.

3. The campaign might take away the attention from the actual product:

A lot of times it has happened that, in the effort to build a controversial campaign, the brand takes away the attention from the actual product or idea.

The campaign might be so bold or so shocking that people tend to forget about the product being advertised or talk about the campaign more. This neither creates brand awareness nor does it boost product sales.

4. It might damage the brand identity:

Both the scenarios where people are outraged by the advertisement or people fail to take notice of the product, damage the brand identity.

It might be a new brand in the market or an established brand, but not dealing with controversial marketing properly might damage the brand totally and people will start choosing the brand’s competitors in the market.

When a brand invests so much in building awareness and identity, this damage to its identity will negate all its efforts and investments.

5. It might become the point of arguments:

A lot of brands adopt the debatable form of campaigns where it introduces an idea and provides both the pros and cons of it and then leaves it up on the public to make a choice.

This might sometimes confuse the audience, where they will be in a dilemma of opinions.

This creates arguments among the public and people tend to forget about the brand and focus more on the debate or the idea it is promoting.


All said and done, there is no doubt that controversial marketing is the trend nowadays and a lot of brands are adopting this form of marketing.

With digital media booming like never before, it becomes easier for brands to even market the campaigns along with the products or the ideas.

This surely generates a buzz among the public. But how does a brand want to approach this method, with all its risks and cons, is what we have to see?

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.