IS CONTROVERSY ALWAYS A GOOD THING FOR MARKETING YOUR BRAND?

THE ART OF CONTROVERSY

In January we travelled across Europe for shoots about the Circular Economy and European Cup football - an eclectic mix!

There was so much European travel we'd nearly forgotten about the Brexit-shaped apocalypse going on in our own backyard… let's not go there as it's too controversial. But with a bit of spin, perhaps controversy can be a good thing in our world? This month we're asking what the power and currency of controversy could be, and is it a good or bad thing for brands?

Controversial-ism

Is it true that 'no news is good news,' or is there really 'no such thing as bad publicity'? These old adages contradict each other but somehow both ring true. In reality, it depends on who, what, when and how people (or brands) are acting. We could write a whole series of WING Perspectives on how the likes of the rich and famous have ingeniously utilised 'bad' publicity to make them even more, well, rich and famous (Kim K, Paris H…. the wall-obsessed orange man on the other side of the pond). However, in the advertising industry, the situation is far more nuanced.

Does the British Army regret Snowflake? Their backlash-inducing latest campaign seemingly denigrating millennials in one fell swoop? Did Gillette cut their own throat when they redefined their brand proposition away from the original The Best a Man Can Get to instead call out toxic masculinity? Is there anything for either of them to really regret when they created such a huge topic for debate with their campaigns? When was the last time you discussed an Army or Gillette campaign? Surely the fact that we are even writing about these brands now counts for a huge amount.

The Fame Game

We all know fame can result from controversy, whether a brand is deliberately looking for it or not. Poundland's Christmas Elf Behaving Badly was not everyone's cup of tea - especially Twinings when they issued the tweet, 'We are aware of an image that is circulating that misuses our product... it is obviously not reflective of our brand values,' in response to the randy big-eared nympho 'tea-bagging'. Yep, you read that right.

You can just imagine the fun the lawyers must have had and clearly Poundland were up for it; they obviously knew what they were doing and it worked - they sold 200,000 bad elves and 1 million elf accessories, presumably all for a pound each!

They continued this controversial marketing tactic when they started selling these empty plastic hearts for Valentine's day, which caused anger from environmental campaigners; the Poundland response was simply 'Our customers love it.'

Paddy Power are another brand who feel that causing uproar (arguably for uproar's sake?) is smart marketing and their Football World Cup stunt seemed pretty crass when they supposedly painted a polar bear with the St George's cross. They tried and succeeded in inciting a very fierce response from animal rights groups, only to then reveal that it was all done in post-production. Imagine the pitch for this one - 'Let's p*ss everyone off and then show them it wasn't real!'

But being controversial doesn't necessarily mean having to create a tea-bagging sex elf or post-produced bear.

In fact, Paddy Power's From Russia with Equal Love campaign was brilliant. Here, they donated £10k to LGBT+ rights groups every time the Russian football team scored. A great point made in a strong way against an anti-LGBT+ country like Russia.

Iceland thought they were doing the right thing by partnering with Greenpeace for their Christmas 'Rang-tan' campaign that showed deforestation for palm oil has brought orangutans to the brink of distinction. It got controversial when it was not cleared by Clearcast… a tweet from James Corden saying this is a must watch, over 30 million views on social media that week and a petition of 725,000 names saying it should be aired… I bet the Iceland marketing team were rubbing their frozen cocktail sausages with glee… (sorry, was that a bit controversial?)

Unfortunately for Iceland this move has also led to more damaging controversy for them. They haven't been able to deliver on their promise to remove palm oil from 100% of their products by the end of 2018. Did they hold their hands up and admit that they haven't been able to achieve this? No, they removed their label from 17 products instead of the palm oil. While they haven't quite undone all the good will towards the brand that was garnered with their Christmas ad, this was a BIG mistake that will take some getting back from.

One brand that has used controversy brilliantly is KFC with their 'We're Sorry' campaign. As the older generation might say, 'Swearing has never been clever, nor is it funny,' until KFC changed it up here. Last year a number of their franchises were temporarily shut down due to a chicken shortage. This was a major problem for the brand as you can imagine (a chicken restaurant without any chicken!) and what better way to overcome the issue than with an original, bold, and funny campaign such as FCK. Here they managed to make light of the genuine controversy (a lack of product) and turn it around into a hugely popular master class in apologising.

WINGpinion

We all know that controversy breeds attention, and for brands, the voluntary controversy they prescribe to is at a calculated cost. In the current climate of social un-cohesion, what we're finding is in fact a positive, louder demand for progressive values. Brands are seeing this, capitalising and going for broke. Do you have a subject to be angry about? Boom, let's use it. The cynics in us are aware that brands are capable of exploiting the real issues of the day - as they always have - but in this day and age they can also do a lot of good by backing the right side of an important issue. We like brands who are not afraid to court controversy as long as they use their marketing budgets for good. If they get a better ROI on top of this, we say good luck to them!

Thanks for sticking around, and as usual we have listed our faves from this month… films we wish we had done! Enjoy, oh - and do the world's top tennis players eat pizza with extra bacon? Doubt it, but who cares, it's a great idea… controversial, huh?

WINGers Top Three Pieces of Content.

Exit 12 Moved by War — Square
Square is a brand supporting an economy that has room for everyone's dreams. They have made some absolutely incredible films to that mission, one of our favourites being Yassin Falafel that came out a few years ago.

This beautiful crossover between branded content, music video, and documentary is just encapsulating. It slowly hovers through each scene seamlessly transitioning from choreographed setups to 'on the fly 'moments and through to interviews. Everything about this film feels human, and the storytelling is stunningly crafted. It brings to light the unfathomable amount of creativity that lives in us all and confirms that we all have a story to tell, whether that's through dance, performance, film - or all three at once.

Australian Open Campaign - Uber Eats
We love this tennis-based campaign for Uber Eats. Using a series of realistic match 'clips' they manage to get genuinely funny performances from the likes of Rafa Nadal and Nick Kyrgios. The juxtaposition from serious moments such as an argument with an umpire to the moment just before serving, works beautifully well and makes for a simple, original and hilarious series of vignettes.

Eat Them To Defeat Them
Ninian's epic (and terrifying!) new film for ITV and Veg Power launched this month. It's the boldness of the campaign that we love which aims to get kids eating more healthily and was funded by a ground-breaking alliance of all the UK's major supermarkets and Birds Eye. Not only is it a vital and important message, but the script is brilliant too. It's surprisingly thrilling and action-packed, which aren't the first words that come to mind when you think vegetables, but that's exactly the point. It feels like a trailer for some insane, epic movie, and you can imagine the fun the production/creative team had playing with all these different genres and techniques.

Hope you enjoyed this month's perspective. Until next time!

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