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Controversial print marketing: is it worthwhile?

We can all name a number of print campaigns we’ve seen that have shocked us – there are even websites dedicated to highlighting and talking about them – but while they certainly grab one’s attention, are they particularly helpful from a marketing perspective or potentially damaging to the brand? Here at PMG Print Management we have great fun with our clients, experimenting with various designs, colours, shapes and textures in order to create successful print campaigns that make an impact, but when it comes to creating print that is a little more controversial, we always have to stop and think. Who might we be offending? Is it really worthwhile?


When the Sisley ‘Fashion Junkie’ print campaign was released, it caused great offence and received some terribly bad press because it revealed two gorgeous yet dazed models on the front, seemingly in the process of taking drugs. On closer inspection, you can see that the girls are only pretending to sniff a thin white vest – hence the slogan ‘fashion junkie’ – but the credit card in the picture and the rolls of paper the girls are holding perhaps took the advert a little too far. The advert is no longer being used in public. If the majority of controversial adverts end up banned or being criticised, why do marketers bother? Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of controversial print marketing…


Shock element

Marketers creating controversial print adverts aim to shock their audience, because they want to be able to stand out against the comparatively uninteresting fare around them. They want people to notice their print straight away, gasp, and discuss it amongst friends, family and work colleagues. The more people start talking about their print campaigns, the more exposure the brand will gain. It’s highly likely that if you have heard about the advert but haven’t yet seen it yourself, you will be encouraged to visit the website to take a look, or to simply Google the brand to find it. All of this helps to raise brand awareness and potentially attract new customers.


Raise awareness

Some companies create controversial print campaigns because they are desperate to raise awareness for a good cause. A recent WWF print campaign featured a woman wheeling her suitcase through an airport and leaving behind a vivid trail of blood, while the slogan read: ‘don’t buy exotic animal souvenirs.’ The campaign caused a lot of controversy for being particularly gruesome and perhaps a little unsuitable for young audiences, but also had quite an impact and seemed to be successful in getting its point across.


Be remembered

Creating a controversial advert is bound to get your brand remembered, because if enough people speak about your print campaign then it’s bound to come to mind when potential customers look for related products or services. The danger is, however, that your brand will be remembered for all the wrong reasons and your controversial print marketing campaign could actually put customers off pursuing your services. Companies must be careful that their print adverts are remembered because they had a positive impact, despite the fact that they might have cause controversy along the way.


While there are benefits to creating controversial print marketing campaigns there are countless risks too, so if you’re contemplating taking the leap you ought to consider just how your audience will respond to certain controversial topics. If you’re interested in creating a compelling print marketing campaign and would like the help of some clever print management experts with fantastic marketing knowledge, get in touch with the team at PMG. We look forward to discussing your ideas.

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