Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Controversial marketing: A Slippery Path to a Goldmine

Controverial Marketing - Nike campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick
Source: Gonzocreative.com

Marketing aims to connect to the ideal audience which should in-turn raise the revenue of the company. How brands connect to this audience becomes a priority in the planning of the marketing adverts. While many advertisement agents approach this with caution in order not to provoke outrage from the public, others take the high ends, not minding if their advert touches some nerves, but with the hope that it gets people talking about the product.

In recent times, many brands have taken the high ends in their marketing approach, notable of which are Nike and Gillette. While some of these brands profited from this controversial marketing, others suffered significant damage which resulted in a loss of revenue and customers.

In January 2019, Gillette published a #MeToo inspired advert. At the time, the #MeToo movement was gaining significant media coverage, many brands decided to align with them in solidarity. Gillette, in aligning with this movement, published “The Best a Man Can Be” advert which depicted men as fighting, bullying, harassing and groping women, while an endless line of men standing shoulder-to-shoulder behind grills blew off their behaviour while repeating the mantra “Boys will be Boys”.


The approach of the advert did not sit well with most people, the majority of which are the target audience, who felt Gillette was insensitive to the majority of their users while pleasing a minute 0.01% of the audience. It was no surprise when Procter and Gambler, the parent company of Gillette, reported a net loss of $5.24 billion following an $8 billion write down. Even though the CEO, Gary Coombe, attributed the loss on revenue on cheaper competitors, Gillette has since abandoned its “woke” campaign and returned to the traditional advert which first featured an Australian Firefighter and personal trainer Ben Ziekenheiner which showed a little girl watching the father in admiration while he shaved.

For Gillette, engaging in controversial campaign adverts paid woefully on their revenue. However, for some brands, engaging in the controversial campaign helped boost their sales revenue, notable among them is the Nike campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.


Several factors led to the success of Nike’s campaign which featured Colin. Aside from the captivating and inspiring phrase “Just Do It”, the Ad featured other notable athletes like Lebron James, Serena Williams, and the US soccer team. The Ad featured Athletes who have been involved around Social issues. Because of the controversy surrounding Colin at the time, a good number of the US population were not cool with it, including the US President, Donald Trump, who publicly criticized the choice of Colin, but not the other Athletes who were also used for the campaign. Many videos featured online showing people burning their Nike gears. Despite this “sectional” outrage, Nike reported a 5% increase in stock in the weeks following the advert release.

Nike and Gillette are typical examples of brands getting involved in a social issue with their Ads campaign. While Gillette went into a social issue by targeting a larger population of their customer in something that seemed insulting to them, Nike engaged in Social issues by telling people they can defeat their limitations, albeit adopting a controversial athlete, Colin Kaepernick, at the time. Another difference between the Nike and the Gillette advert is that Nike gave a face to their advert so that even beyond the controversies, people see their heroes and heroines wearing Nike gears and telling them to “JUST DO IT”, to break boundaries and limitations. That alone was inspirational to the advert's success. Gillette did not adopt a hero for the face of their advert, instead, they clamped the majority of their users as the villain, telling them to be better than they are, which can mean that they are terrible people who need redeeming.

In summary, the essence of an advert campaign is to reach a target audience with the sole aim of increasing sales and growing revenue. Recently, many brands have engaged in a controversial Ads campaign which either made or marred them. Whatever strategy a brand wishes to adopt or the social issues they wish to adopt into their campaign should be done tactically, with the primary aim of increasing revenue at the fulcrum of that decision. Controversial Adverts grows the audience who talks about your product, however, make sure the audience also translates to customers buying your products.

Written by: Ifeoma Ikwegbue
Edited by: Anthony Mbawuike

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