Controversy sells, and it always has and it always will.
Marketing expert Jeff Bullas calls this ‘contagious content’ that ‘people can’t wait to share.’
But as the owner of a business, you have to be very careful how you use controversial content, because if you stop over the line into being offensive, you will not only turn off your target audience, you will gain a bad reputation that can destroy your company.
So where is the line that divides, bold, envelope-pushing content from repulsive content that will push the wrong emotional buttons in your audience?
The answer is that any content that demeans a person’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political affiliation is off-limits.
BUT…that doesn’t mean that you have to avoid these subjects entirely. What it does mean, however, is that you can create provocative content that taps into these subjects and generates debate.
The question is, how do you do that and still maintain the integrity and vision of what your company stands for.
To answer that question, let’s take a look at some strategies you can implement to create content that can trigger debate and increase your brand awareness.
Tackle A Shocking Topic Or Subject
When you choose to create content that has inherent shock value, you can almost guarantee that it will hit a nerve with a large segment of your targeted audience.
And whatever forms your shocking content takes, it must always relate back to your products and services so that your audience knows you aren’t just going for shock without any real value.
Several years ago, Barnardo’s, an organization that helps battered children find a better future, created an ad that featured a baby in diapers holding a heroin needle and preparing to inject the drug.
The fact that the baby was sitting in a filthy drug house added even more grimy realism to this shocking content.
The juxtaposition of the innocent baby about to inject heroin sold the idea that if children are not given the help they need when they’re young, their future is grim.
Shocking? Yes. But also very effective, because it drove home the WHY of Bernardo’s, which is taking care of children to prevent that horrible photo from coming to life.
Tackle Issues That Are Debatable
We live in a time when people can’t agree whether the sun is yellow, so you can imagine how well truly debatable issues will play with your target audience.
Content marketer Bernadette Coleman refers to debatable issues as topics that get people talking and foster greater engagement.
The trick with posting content that is debatable is that you have to give equal weight to both sides of the issue you choose, then let your audience debate their positions.
So unlike posting shocking content, in which it is absolutely clear where you stand on an issue, debatable content is all about encouraging your audience to mix it up with each other.
This can often generate emotion that can sometimes spill over into anger and hostility, but it can be worth it because of the increased amount of engagement.
For example, the United Nations (UN) Women’s ‘Auto-Complete’ Truth campaign used Google’s auto complete feature to showcase search results about different subjects related to women.
The campaign featured the image of a woman staring into the camera with a Google search box placed over her mouth.
In that search box, was the search query ‘women shouldn’t,’ and underneath that query were four auto-complete search results, including:
- ‘women shouldn’t have rights’
- ‘women shouldn’t vote’
- ‘women shouldn’t work’
- ‘women shouldn’t box’
What made this powerful AND debatable was that these were real search results based on aggregated opinions.
And they generated intense debate about the role of women in the post-industrialized world, with the ultimate goal of getting people to confront their own opinions about women.
Violate Normal Standards
When you post content that violates normal standards in your industry, it will gain attention because it is rarely done, and also because the message you’re communicating is urgent.
Dove embraced this concept when it premiered its ‘Campaign for Real Beauty,’ in which it showcased ordinary, normal-sized women in their undergarments, proudly displaying their real-life, un-retouched bodies.
The campaign was a huge success, because it violated normal standards that discouraged beauty brands from showing the bodies of real, average women as opposed to thin supermodels who represent the ‘ideal’ of beauty.
By boldly creating a new standard, Dove appealed to its base of women who wanted to feel connected to a beauty product without aspiring to be perfect.
But the campaign was also controversial at the time, because people had become so conditioned to thin, airbrushed models as symbols of beauty, that they objected to Dove’s more realistic depiction.
If you can showcase your products or services in a distinct manner that violates accepted standards in your industry, AND also shows how people have been wrongly conditioned to think in a specific way, it can pay off for your business in a big way.
A Little Controversy Goes a Long Way
When creating bold and controversial content, remember that a little goes a long way. You want to use this strategy sparingly, so that it doesn’t lose its effectiveness.
It is also important to remember that your goal is not to offend your audience, but to stir debate, and get them to see your company in a new and interesting way.
If you want to know more about controversial content and how to use it, or you need marketing advice, please contact us today for a consultation.