Controversy or bust
I have to admit, I am rather partial to a bit of controversy. Well, at least if I’m not at the centre of it, anyway.
Let’s face it, we all like to put in our two pennies worth when something worth talking about hits our screens or newspapers.
And there’s been no shortage of it over the years, particularly when it comes to advertising.
There’s nothing like a controversial advertising campaign to help us rise above general day to day monotony.
The latest to get everyone talking is the H&M advert that caused outcry in South Africa.
Apparently, in protest, shots were fired at one of their stores and widespread vandalism lead to all of H&M’s South Africa stores being closed for the remainder of the day on Saturday.
The H&M online advert that triggered the protests featured a young black model wearing a hoodie with the words “Coolest monkey in the jungle”.
Talk about emotive customer experiences, indeed.
The advert went viral on social media with people accusing the chain of racism. You can imagine the customer comments doing the rounds. And the backlash that customer feedback management teams for H&M would be drowning in.
H&M apologised and assured customers that the hooded sweatshirt would be removed from all stores. They also promised that an incident like this would never happen again.
The question is, what will be the longer-term impact on H&M because of the controversy?
Canadian musician, The Weeknd, who previously promoted two collections for H&M, has already cut his ties with the brand after seeing the advert.
But what of the public at large?
I don’t know for sure but for every person that complained about the advert, I would put money on the fact that there was someone saying ‘that would look so cute on my little monkey.’
And then a third would be saying ‘Oh, H&M’s in the news. I must go there this weekend to get that new top/skirt/dress (delete as appropriate) that I’ve had my eye on since Christmas.’
Rocking the boat
It’s true. Controversy may create waves, but it doesn’t always capsize the brand vessel.
Take Dove as a case in point. It’s not long since we talked about their controversial advert, in which some members of the public felt as though the brand was criticising mothers who choose to breast feed in public.
And their other one, where they were criticized for showing a black woman turn white after using a particular Dove lotion.
There were people up in arms in both instances.
They’re still in business though.
More to the point, just look at United Colours of Benetton. They have always been renowned for creating controversial advertising campaigns, especially when under the guidance of art director Oliviero Toscani throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s.
There were the floating coloured condoms in 1991 as a nod to the AIDS crisis sweeping the country. And the following year, a campaign sported a reworked image of gay activist and AIDS victim David Kirby as he lay on his death bed.
They also had an advert showing a priest and a nun, both in clerical vestments, kissing.
Then there was the one with the three ‘human’ hearts (which actually came from pigs) and the words ‘black, white, yellow’.
And the interracial, homosexual family.
And the photo of the Mafia killing of Benedetto Grado in Palermo, Italy, which took place in 1982, ten years before Benetton thought it would make for a good marketing campaign.
Never ending story
The list goes on, and the Vogue article only touches on adverts broadcast over a handful of years. Toscani was at the helm of their advertising for 18 years.
Okay, I don’t think user experience testing would put Benetton way up high in the popularity polls. But I honestly think that’s simply more to do with how times have changed, as opposed to the fact that they have always been keen to air their views and not afraid to upset the public and garner negative customer comments.
Indeed, it looks like they plan on doing more of the same. At the end of last year, they brought Oliviero Toscani back to the mothership, 17 years after firing him.
(Ironically, he was fired on 2000 because of one of his advertising campaigns. Clearly, using the death penalty to advertise pretty sweaters was a step too far, even for Benetton.
But I bet we can expect more waves to come. And many of these waves (or perhaps we should say tsunamis!) clearly haven’t battered the Italian Benetton too much.
They are obviously doing something right. After all, they have been succeeding in business since 1965.
Is it worth the risk?
Consumers hope for an emotive customer experience when it comes to brands. Something that triggers a strong emotional response usually drives widespread engagement, whether consumer reactions are positive or negative.
And at the end of the day, widespread engagement can lead businesses to experience unprecedented returns on investment.
So, it’s win, win, right?! You get everyone talking and sales accelerate thanks to all the publicity!
Of course, it doesn’t always work like that.
I am guessing you have to already have an army of loyal customers behind you if you are looking to tackle controversial issues in your marketing and be pretty confident that you will still have consumers out there when the dust has settled.
Before you take any major risks in your publicity, make sure they are calculated and that you know your audience.
To gain a deeper insight into your consumers and see your brand from their perspective, to help you market yourself more effectively, get in touch with the team here at The Monachie Project and let our user experience testing and consulting give you deeper insights about your business and your target market.