As the saying goes, “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative,” and actress Gwyneth Paltrow must have really liked the motto as she recently made huge profits by selling a candle that smells like her vagina. The product went viral after it was listed for $75 on Goop and landed her in trouble for sexism, but Gwyneth saw it all as ‘good controversy’ for her business and did not apologise for being a smart businesswoman.
Similarly, a few days back in India an “alleged” fake meme featuring a condom brand took a dig at Delhi Police and went viral as it read ‘better protection than Delhi Police’. In the age of controversial viral content, an easy way to stand out in the crowd is to be exceptionally good or bad to get maximum attention – and brands aren’t shying away from taking the risk.
Like good women, good ads too rarely make history; higher the shock value, greater the impact on consumers. Mumbai-based film director Adeeb Rais says, “There is no doubt that slightly unconventional campaigns help brands get noticed. They grow considerably on recall value and controversial campaigns often help generate that. Today’s youth also appreciate brands that have a more brave voice than playing around with the sugar-coated tried and tested techniques that use to work in advertising back in the day.”
Shock value has worked to an extent as a marketing ploy since the history of early advertising; it’s the medium that has changed now. It is up to the brand to navigate both the good and the bad responses from consumers as cleverly as possible, says marketing professional Nandini Swaminathan. “I think it’s important to remember that mere shock value isn’t the key. The brand in itself needs to either be as viral as Goop or have a value proposition that’s strong enough to tie in with the campaign. Else, it tends to fall flat. I saw an ad by Wakefit, a mattress brand that claimed to offer an internship that lets you get paid `1 lakh for sleeping on the job. The advertisement instantly checked on three main objectives — consumer interest, brand recall, and popularity – which made it a viral on social media,” she opines.
Interestingly, industry insiders feel ad gimmicks help the brand to be disruptive in the category which allows it to stand out among others. Sankalp Anand, business partner at an advertisement company BBH, says, “This kind of advertising allows a brand to stand out in the market giving it an edge over other competitors who follow the conventional way. Now, because they have changed our perception entirely after a bold advertisement, we associate with these brands in a new and positive way.”
On the other hand, many professionals do not agree with the “shock strategies” as it could backfire and harm the reputation. “Gimmicks can only create temporary interest and intrigue and don’t help drive sales. Any marketing strategy needs to take into account and be based on why and how customers make decisions. Creatively done campaigns can boost the sales trajectory,” says Rahul Narvekar, motivational speaker and marketing expert.
“There is a discerning difference between striking and objectionable promotional campaign,” cautions creative consultant Prabhjeet Singh Sethi. “Users certainly take notice when there’s any shocking element in advertisement. But the attention gained does not guarantee long-term results. Risking it by touching someone’s raw nerve is a gamble. Not all consumers might take your advertisement in their stride. Personally, I am a fan of ads that use wit in the right way, for instance, Amul’s standalone ad that celebrated the onset of 2020 saying ‘Tu Bees (20) Baddi Hai Mast Mast’,” sums up Sethi.