Many popular brands, particularly in the fashion industry, have been at the center of recent controversies because of offensive images in their advertisements.
Brands involved include Gucci, which stopped selling a product after it was criticized for representing blackface, and Burberry, for a controversial outfit that included a noose displayed wrapped around the model’s neck.
Sunny Robertson, junior international marketing major, said some companies run with the idea that all publicity is good publicity.
“The biggest benefit of controversial advertising is the remembrance factor. Any publicity is good publicity in that sense,” Robertson said.
Dr. Natalie Winter, professor of marketing and management, disagreed with the common belief that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
“A lot of the time, controversial advertising can generate publicity that causes negative long-term effects,” Winter said.
Being a little controversial can help your brand, but diving into areas such as racism and making light of suicide can land brands in serious trouble.
“The line for controversial advertising comes way before the noose outfit Burberry marketed. Research is such a key element many companies tend to neglect sometimes,” Robertson said.
Both Gucci and Burberry have issued apologies and declared these incidences to be “learning moments.” Even with these apologies, Winter said she was was wary.
“Sometimes even when it is part of a planned strategy, it can be played off as accidental,” Winter said.
Other times, controversy is very much an intentional part of advertising. Controversial marketing is sometimes known as “shockvertising.”
“A lot of companies use ‘shockvertising’ for the purpose of creating that shock factor and also creating a memory and connection with their audience,” Robertson said. “It might not be the best or the most ethical thing to do, by any means, but it makes an impact for sure.”
Charlotte Burckin, junior marketing major, emphasized the importance of doing research before releasing an advertisement into the world.
“From what we’ve learned in the marketing program, you have all the resources necessary to avoid those mistakes. So, if there are unintentional implications in advertisements, it is almost worse they have not taken advantage of research,” Burckin said.
Robertson said she agreed that research is important.
“We’ve been learning in my international business classes that it is essential to research your audience and know to whom you are giving your product. Sometimes an audience simply does not connect with a product,” Robertson said.
There are both pros and cons to controversial advertising. By knowing their audience and establishing a team to do research, all companies can avoid backlash.
“There is so much noise in everyday consumers’ lives, so breaking through that is the goal. ‘Shockvertising’ does that but you need to be cautious in the way you approach that,” Burckin said.