When planning your advertising and marketing campaigns, it’s important that you master the art of catching your target audience’s attention. Controversial messages risk ruffling some feathers within society, but one thing that is guaranteed is that it will catch people’s attention. But the question remains, where do you draw the line? How far is too far?
Controversy sparks engagement and a discussion amongst society, and if your brand is the topic of discussion, then people are going to remember you. But is there such a thing as bad publicity? Alternative approaches are subjective to the person viewing it – an advert can be interpreted in many ways, and what one person might find amusing, another could find grossly offensive. The trick is to be clever with your message and imagery, rather than offensive. With 30% of men and women admitting they avoided purchasing from brands with distasteful advertising campaigns, be careful with how you approach your campaign.
Volkswagen are very tactical with their campaigns – in particular, their VW Polo campaigns. VW dealership, Vindis, explore how Volkswagen have used controversy and humour by taking advantage of potentially bad news, and why they have worked – can other SME’s capitalise on this advertising technique?
Is it clever advertising or distasteful?
Piggy-backing onto current viral affairs is a technique Volkswagen adapt to with many of their campaigns – it ensures their campaigns are up-to-date and attention grabbing. With each of their campaigns, Volkswagen have continued to approach all VW Polo advertising with the moto ‘small but tough’.
An example when VW capitalised on current affairs is with their 2014 VW Polo campaign. In 2014, after an image went viral of an elephant straddling a Volkswagen Polo, assumedly using the vehicle as a scratching post, the brand capitalised on the image by using it as part of their campaign to suggest that the Polo comes with ‘Elephant Impact Protection as Standard’. The campaign was amusing to the audience, whilst also relatable and current as the image was ‘real’. Whilst this could have been potential bad news about an elephant getting close and personal, crushing the VW Polo, the brand saw an opportunity to utilise the image in their favour, tactfully making the most of its ‘small but tough’ slogan.
Had it not been for the power of social media, it’s likely that VW would have not seen the image and the cleverly thought out campaign would not exist. The internet played a huge role in the success and exposure of the campaign. Following the rise of digital media and social media apps, advertisers and brands can use ‘viral marketing’ as a tool to spread information almost immediately.
The 2003 ‘Cops’ advertisement was another campaign that saw VW capitalising on the ‘small but tough’ slogan. Showing a dozen police officers taking cover behind the VW Polo whilst in a gun battle, the brand cleverly got their message across to the audience – ‘small but tough. Polo.’
Some would say Volkswagen are clever at using a model’s best feature to its full advantage in their advertising campaigns by creating a joke or imitation within their campaigns. One of their campaigns capitalised on the size of the brand’s supermini. With the tag line ‘one benefit of the new Polo is that you can park it anywhere’, the advertisement shows a VW Polo parked on top of the billboard. Suggesting you literally can park it anywhere.
How can SME’s use controversy as a successful advertising technique?
For SME’s, using controversy in their advertising campaigns can be risky when your brand isn’t as well-known as VW – however, it can pay off if you are clever about it, with the potential to get your brand noticed.
There are some topics which you should always avoid though. Generally, it’s a safe option to avoid anything to do with racism, sexuality, religion and politics as with these topics, everyone is likely to have different opinion. SME’s in particular should stick to safer topics which you are more likely to get away with a controversial approach.
The best way to approach your advertising campaigns is to keep up with viral and current trends. Capitalising with reactive marketing is a great way to drive engagement towards your brand. Reactivate marketing campaigns are designed to jolt the viewer awake – shock adverts catch the viewer’s attention, and usually keeps their attention.
Using digital platforms are a great way for SME’s to get some free exposure when starting out, especially social media. Whether you are a large corporate business or an SME, Google, and the likes, can’t differentiate between each and treats you both the same – it’s up to the users and readers to choose who deserves the exposure and recognition. Remember, it’s free to set up a social media profile. Whilst you might not have the same budget as a larger competitor, that’s no reason not to be seen, or heard for that matter.
Keep current trends in mind too, and be clever with your advertising. If you can catch your audience’s attention, there is nothing separating you from the big boys.