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Be Controversial

There are numerous blogs, websites and social media profiles which are all vying for attention at the moment. Many of the blogs are posting the same topics, advice and information. This is likely to be good information, but with so much competition will they get noticed?

Being controversial in the reporting of news and advice might be a way to get around this. Being controversial can apply to social media, blogging or email campaigns and if you get it right can be a huge traffic generator.

Find out more here on how being controversial is good for your online presence.


Why Be Controversial?

Being controversial gets you noticed. By stepping away from the industry norm you can differentiate your brand, drawing the audiences in to find out more information. Being controversial is often a trademark of some of the biggest celebrities out there.

Steve Irwin, Michael Jackson, Luis Suárez are all names which can be associated with controversy. Yet each one has another thing in common: their fame. Each of these individuals has used controversy to draw attention to what they are offering. For Luis Suárez it’s for his football talents and he earns £10 million (AU$18 million) a year because of his brand.

Steve Irwin was an unwitting participant in controversy, taking his son into a crocodile enclosure for one was not about gaining media attention but because he felt it was important for his child to get that early exposure. However, the attention gained through the incident continued to allow him to push conservation efforts around the world until his untimely death.

Being controversial is about expressing an opinion. As with any opinion, there will be those who will support you and those who will not. Both the positive and negative responses however can drive your brand’s awareness. In contrast, not having an opinion is likely to get you ignored, which would harm your marketing efforts.


Where Can You Be Controversial?

The above examples are all controversial because of actions which have taken place offline. Yet being controversial can take place just as well online. There are many different areas where you could add that controversy to get you noticed.

Your subject line or title is perhaps one of the best places to start. This is the first thing readers will notice and therefore needs to be strong.

So therefore instead of sticking with the plain “Six Ways To…” introduce it as “How Being Your Competitors’ Stalker Can…”.

Being slightly off the ball can be really useful in developing interest and generating that click through rate.

Another idea would be to have your main message and content slightly controversial. Many businesses have jumped on the controversy of the Luis Suárez bite in the World Cup to market their own brand. This has included fast food chains McDonald’s and Nando’s posting comments telling the striker to eat at theirs if he is really that hungry.

This of course is newsjacking, which is also great for visitor generation.

The content can either be on your blog or on social media. Social media is a great location because it can expand your reach quicker and take advantage of current trending topics (like with McDonald’s and Nando’s).

A simple picture and a small controversial message can be shared thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of times in a short while.


Controversy Gone Wrong

Of course, as with anything, there is always the chance that this marketing strategy can go wrong. There are many examples out there where controversy has led to big brands being sued. For example Taco Bell asking 50cents to change his name to 99cents. This resulted in a lawsuit being filed against the fast food chain.

Another example would be claiming health benefits for your product when there is no evidence of any, as done by Activia. A lawsuit resulted in a $45 million fine and enforcement in the change of their marketing promises.

Facebook is certainly an example of a company continuously being involved in controversy. Their controversy is often about using personal information. Yet Facebook has always weathered the news and is still the most popular social media platform.


Controversy Gone Right

There are a number of different examples of when the controversy of a brand’s message has actually paid off. One of the best examples is Oreo. In June 2012, the brand posted a message in support of gay rights. This issue continues to polarise the US and this is where the brand is most popular.

Within moments of the post going up, comments and shares flooded in for the brand. Some of the messages were negative and accused the brand of destroying Christian values. Through this campaign, the brand got unprecedented media coverage which went beyond the original message. It allowed the brand to become one of the fastest growing brands on social media.

One, perhaps unplanned controversy, was made by the American Red Cross. One of their employees tweeted a message which stated several staff members were going to get drunk after finding some beer. The American Red Cross tweeted an apology and made a small tongue in cheek joke about hiding the car keys.

Yet the incident didn’t stop there. Some of their audience decided to send more donations to the charity to cover the cost of the beer which had been bought.


The Rules of Being Controversial

Here are a few rules in how to be controversial in your marketing to gain attention without offending anyone. If you are able to follow these guidelines, then you can take your marketing to the next level.

1. Don’t be offensive – Even if you are promoting a certain lifestyle, you shouldn’t devalue another style of life. Oreo’s campaign did this very well by promoting gay rights but placing it under the banner of “supporting love”. Therefore those who are not gay, but believe in the same rights, would not feel alienated.

2. Be truthful and ensure you have the facts to back up your claims – don’t lie about any facts or figures. Activia, while they may not have lied, did not have scientific studies to back up their health claims.

3. Be Realistic – Not everyone is going to like your controversial content. Prepare responses if people take a dislike to your campaign. However even the most popular and successful controversial campaigns (Oreo’s, American Red Cross, etc), have all had their share of negative comments.



Being controversial can be a really great way of drawing attention to your brand. By inserting a few good controversial campaigns into your marketing strategy you can obtain numerous visitors, push your brand’s exposure and develop a reputation. The tricky part is making sure you don’t over-rock the boat.


Action Steps:

  • Create a controversial piece of content that ties in with a recent piece of news or upcoming event.
  • Release the news article and see your brand’s exposure grow.

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