Today I learned that American Apparel — best known for it’s sexually provocative advertising and its controversial founder — has filed for voluntary bankruptcy protection. Business Insider makes the case that their downfall was becoming less provocative. This got me thinking about the difficult decision to take a marketing risk in the first place.
You might choose a safe route from the get go. Or you could throw caution to the wind. Sometimes you don’t know that you’ve taken a risk and suddenly you’re marketing is the centre of a controversy. It’s helpful to have the pros and cons in mind when evaluation a marketing idea and whether it’s worth taking the risk.
PRO: Free press
If you’ve been surprised by a media controversy you’ve created – don’t panic! This might be a great opportunity. Free press doesn’t get the street cred it deserves. Advertising isn’t cheap and a venue for conversation is valuable.
Last month we talked about a marketing campaign for the town of Okotoks that became the butt of many media jokes – offending some for sure. However, the town took it in stride and turned the coverage in it’s favour.
CON: Your brand becomes associated with a controversy
Since your brand is everything about how you are perceived by your audience – your staff, your associates, suppliers, existing and potential customers – it’s worth being careful about what messaging you put into the world. Make sure your material reflects your brand values.
PRO: You’re memorable
If your goal is awareness – for more people to see your message – a little risk taking might be just the ticket.
We did a campaign in the late 2000s that was meant to get people talking about an important issue that was largely being ignored. To draw attention to poverty in the Yukon and access to essential services we plastered the sidewalks of Whitehorse with the message “You don’t belong here.” Some folks were really angry about it. The thing is – those affluent sets of lungs were exactly who needed the message most; they got to understand the anger that impoverished Yukoners feel all the time. And they started taking about it.
CON: You’ve created more work for yourself
Managing a controversy is more work than not having one to begin with. It’s helpful to be one step ahead of any controversy you create – but even when it comes as a surprise, responding in a timely matter can make or break the outcome of an outrage.
PRO: Getting a reaction is an opportunity for dialogue
Today’s successful brands leverage dialogue and transparency. Being able to listen, engage and either strengthen or pivot your position will make your brand more agile.
So if you’ve made a risqué move and find yourself in a controversy, take a strategic approach and start by compartmentalizing your priorities. Think about who is angry and what impact they have on your audience and the goal of the communications piece in question. Take time to internalize the feedback you’re getting (try to get more if you can) and consider what it says about your brand values and if you need to pivot your marketing strategy or not. Whatever you do, don’t panic and react! There’s more than one solution to every situation.
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