Believe in Something: Controversial Campaigns That Got People Talking

Believe in Something: Controversial Campaigns That Got People Talking

Standing up for what you believe in is admirable, but is a controversial campaign worth it? Do you run the risk of alienating your audience or do those views and comments bring a return for the brands that stand up and stand out?

Let’s take a look at some campaigns that recently made the headlines for their content, whether intentional or not and discuss how brands get people talking.

Recent Controversy

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) received 35 complaints in reaction to Sainsbury’s Christmas 2018 advert created by Wieden + Kennedy.

On their YouTube channel, Sainsbury’s write that the short film “tells the story of the North Star overcoming her nerve to deliver a performance of a lifetime […] she is supported by a huge cast of 59 kids aged 6-11, all dressed as a variety of Christmas staples – including a turkey drummer and a set of Christmas lights (plug included).”

Despite the outrage – or perhaps because of it  – the advert has been viewed over 6 million times since it was published on the 11th November 2018.

Concerned parents contacted the ASA arguing that “plug boy” would encourage children to put their fingers in wall sockets. Sainsbury’s haven’t made a public comment to defend their advert and the ASA has yet to announce their decision.

Whether or not Sainsbury’s intended any alarm by the advert is unlikely, but this is a great example of unexpected fuore boosting views as the public rolled up their sleeves in defense of the supermarket chain, especially on Twitter.

Brands Making A Political Statement

Sometimes brands make what is seen to be an overtly political statement, which can lead to much debate.

In November 2018, Iceland’s #NoPalmOilChristmas was ‘banned’ from UK TV by Clearcast, the body which approves ads for broadcast on TV. Featuring Rang-tan the orangutan, Iceland’s advert was commissioned by Greenpeace and their agency, Mother. The animated story tells of an orangutan who goes to live with a little girl after his forest home has been destroyed by the palm oil trade.

Rather than the content being political, Clearcast said that Greenpeace as an organisation had been unable to prove that they are not a “political advertiser” and therefore the advert breached political advertising rules.

Although fewer people will have seen the video than Iceland may have initially hoped via a TV campaign, the reaction to the 90 second film online and on social media has been huge.

The video has been viewed almost 6 million times on YouTube and over 15 million times on Twitter after celebrities such as Stephen Fry and James Corden shared the clip. The advert has sparked intense debate and a petition to get the ad released on TV has attracted more than 670,000 signatures.

Brands with a history of controversial campaigns

Some brands frequently use their status to raise awareness on current issues. For example, Nike is no stranger to controversial campaigns. In 2018, Nike made Colin Kaepernick the face of its latest ad campaign. In America, Kaepernick is known for kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games, which is said to be a reference to police brutality against unarmed black Americans.

The theme of the print and TV advert, which also features Serena Williams and LeBron James, is about athletes pushing for bigger dreams. Kaepernick’s voice over says “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just Do It.”

The advert divided opinions with some people declaring that they would boycott the brand and even Donald Trump criticised the sportswear company for “disrespecting the American flag.” However, their gamble is said to have turned into a win for Nike as it is reported that sales increased by $6 billion after the release of the ad.

Prepared to stand up for their beliefs

Sail have written before about a few of our favourite brands who are prepared to stand up for what they believe in, such as: Sport England, Lynx and Heineken. Similarly, we work with clients who have a social message they want to convey such as Curious Festival, an annual festival of immersive queer arts and culture looking to encourages dialogue on relevant social issues.

Daring to be different to the twinkly fairy lights of most Christmas adverts does seem to have paid off in many ways for Iceland. According to Marketing Week, “Iceland’s consideration among consumers in the supermarket sector has shot up 5.9 points to a score of 21.6, the highest increase of any retailer on YouGov BrandIndex. This puts Iceland just behind the Co-op and ahead of Waitrose in terms of consideration.”

So should brands be using shock tactics to convey their message?

Whilst we do not advocate offensive or discriminatory practices, we do feel that challenging the status quo is an effective way to raise awareness about social issues. Crucially, if a brand is willing to stand up for something that is close to their heart, then it must come from a genuine place and not appear to be a money making ploy or jumping on a bandwagon.

For example, before Rang-tan hit our screens, Iceland became the first UK supermarket to commit to remove palm oil as an ingredient in 100% of its own-label food by the end of 2018. This pledge is what ultimately will make the difference between a ‘controversial’ advert with a cute animal and raising brand awareness and loyalty.

Be a brand that dares to be different

As Cassandra Duffy said, “the beauty of standing up for your rights is that others see you standing and stand up as well.”  Her point highlights how important it is for brands not to push forward on a crusade that alienates their audience, but to engage with their customers and champion causes that suit their demographic.

Shock tactics may create temporary buzz, but brand loyalty is more likely to be formed via an audience that sees a company standing up again and again for an issue that matters to them.

A few tips for creating a campaign that pushes boundaries:

– Stick to your core values

– Place your customer at the heart of everything you do

– Find your voice, be authentic: don’t be afraid to share your story!

– Be prepared to engage but not be defensive

In a recent blog we shared why and how it is vital to keep the customer at the heart of everything you do as a business. Having a clear understanding on your audience profile – their likes, dislikes, habits and aspirations – will help you to identify the social issues close to their heart.

What does your brand stand for?

We are advocates of being bold and challenging social norms, not just for the sake of being offensive. Done successfully, a ‘controversial’ campaign will raise brand awareness and keep people talking.
Are you ready to show the world what you believe in? Tell your story, and if you need help-we would love to chat.