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Exactly how controversial can your brand be?

Wed, 02/08/2017 - 10:06

Some brands can pull off being controversial. Some try and fail miserably. And others play it safe, never leaving their comfort zone. Speak to any creative in the marketing or advertising industry and they’ll tell you one of the biggest frustrations they face is with clients who aren’t willing to take risks. But the problem with risks is they have to be calculated (and calculated properly). Otherwise, you end up less like Nandos and more like Pepsi a few months ago. Remember that PR disaster?

So, how do you decide exactly how controversial your brand can be? Well, here are a few factors to consider.   

Who are you selling to?
This goes beyond the basic LSM (Living Standards Measure). You don’t just need to know your target market’s basic income. You need to know their personalities. What do these people care about? Are they social justice warriors? Are they conservative? Do they care about politics? Or are they primarily concerned with their image and what people think of them? Most importantly, do they have a sense of humour?   

And who are you willing to alienate?
Controversial campaigns alienate people. Some people may be offended. Some people may not get it. And some people may think it’s the best thing ever and suddenly start rushing to stores to purchase your product or whipping out their phones to sign up for your service. If you want to be controversial, you need to be certain you’re not going to alienate the very people you’re selling to. The people who don’t use your services or products don’t matter. But the people who do cannot be turned off by your campaigns.  

Is being bland working for your brand?
Everybody wants more brand awareness, but do you actually need it? Are you happy with your numbers right now? Yes, you want more consumers, everybody does, but are your profits looking good for this quarter? If so, perhaps your focus should be maintaining sales and not trying to do cool shit. Because the risk is, as mentioned above, you could alienate consumers you already have instead of gaining new loyal customers. 

It’s best not to rock the boat if you’re steadily on your way to your destination. If your brand suits bland, why risk it? By bland, of course, I don’t mean using terrible marketing techniques or foregoing marketing completely. What I mean is continuing on the path you’re travelling and sticking to a strategy that is currently working for you. And I know creatives all over the place are shaking their fists at me right now but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

Do you trust your creatives?
The problem with being controversial is that there is always a chance you could fail epically and go viral for all the wrong reasons. However, if your creative team are clued up on everything that’s going on in the world and have a reputation for doing their research, you stand a solid chance of hitting the mark. People often overlook the importance of knowing the current state of affairs all over the globe before attempting anything controversial. But the thing is, a controversial campaign’s success likely depends on how the target market is feeling at this particular moment. What are they for and what are they against? What gets them excited and what pisses them off? Basically, what are they going to choose to care about today?   

At the end of the day, what is the big win you’re after? Do you want to get people excited about your brand? Do you want your brand to be the topic of conversation at the dinner table? Do you want to win over those picky millennials and be shared, retweeted and blogged about? Or do you want to continue selling as you’ve always sold? Controversial campaigns can either take your brand to new heights, fall flat or create a Twitter backlash that will take a lot of time, energy and money to recover from. If you want to do it, you have to go all in. You need to trust your creatives and let them do the job you pay them for. You can’t half-arse controversial.