Jackie Long

The pros and cons of controversial marketing

Creating ads that get people talking is usually a good thing, but sometimes people are talking for the wrong reasons. Is it worth creating ads that create an uproar for your brand?

We’ve all seen those ads – the ones created to cause a stir. They may be meant to inspire, educate, open a discussion, or promote a cause. No matter the intent behind the campaign, they often result in public debates. Sometimes, that debate is simply whether or not a company should be attempting to monetize a topic. This can be seen recently with campaigns from Nike, Gillette, and Burger King.

While this debate continues to inspire a variety of responses, the truth is that these campaigns often accomplish their goals of increasing brand awareness and often making sales. That’s especially true for big brands that can afford a little controversy or even a partial boycott. But what about smaller brands? How do you decide whether or not it’s worth it?

Like anything else, you should consider both the pros and cons before deciding on an ad strategy that will work for your brand.


  • Increased brand awareness is almost guaranteed if your ad goes viral.
  • Sales may surge for a particular product or the overall brand if people are willing to back your stance.
  • If a large debate ensues, social media and news sites may increase the spread of your ad without a lot of money behind the actual campaign.
  • You can make a big splash quickly if you have a particular item or event you want to promote.


  • If your take is too controversial, people may boycott or avoid your brand.
  • If people assume your stance is not genuine, it could end up negatively impacting your reputation.
  • If people don’t know your company, the controversy may be all they remember about you.


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So How Do You Get People Talking?

Pick a topic that people feel strongly about – but not too strongly. Think about the type of thing that would spark a debate at a dinner party without causing everyone to walk out. If you choose a political topic, make sure you carefully consider your audience when deciding on your stance.

Make sure to take a stance. Your ad will likely fail if people think you’re just trying to ride a topic without actually adding to the debate. Explain your take on the topic clearly in your ad.

Stand behind your advertising. Choose a topic that actually matters to your company, and don’t lie to your customers. Social media in particular can be incredibly hard on companies that show one stance in public but fail to back that up in business practices.

Be prepared for all eventualities. Consider carefully any fallout that could result from your chosen topic. By having a strategy on how to handle things in advance, you can minimize any negative effects that might occur. Then ensure that your whole marketing team understands what the plan is.

Let the ad stand on its own. If your take doesn’t create the buzz you want, don’t try to force it. You could end up damaging your brand instead of spreading it.

About the author
Jackie Long

Jackie is a Content Specialist at NS8. With a varied background and over 6 years of content creation experience, Jackie works hard to provide a compelling range of informative articles.

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