The intent was clear: Pepsi wanted to promote their product as a unifying force in a polarized culture. But it was badly misjudged. 2017 saw a proliferation of political and social protest movements across America (and the world), including the Black Lives Matter movement, and the similarity of the images in Pepsi’s ad to those of real protests struck the wrong chord. There was an overwhelmingly negative backlash on social media, centered around the opinion that the campaign trivialized serious social inequality and represented an inauthentic and opportunistic attempt by Pepsi to tie their brand to a contemporary cultural movement.
How to conduct a successful controversial marketing campaign
If you want to court controversy and provoke debate in the right way, there’s a few things you need to remember:
Learn from others
Learn your lessons from those that have failed as well as those that have succeeded. The conclusion from Pepsi’s campaign was clear: your campaign must add real value to the subject you’re taking on. When developing your campaign, think about what your product does, and whether the message behind your campaign aligns with the view of your target audience.
Don’t allow your campaign to be misconstrued. If you have a consistent tone of voice and message throughout your content, there’s less chance of this happening. Pepsi is one example of this; they wanted to promote a message of harmony, but it looked like they were saying a systemic issue could be solved with a can of soft drink.
By connecting your marketing to the core values of your brand, you’ll show this consistency and there’s less chance your message could be interpreted in a negative fashion. If you’re conducting a controversial marketing campaign, there’ll be some adverse reaction whatever you do (and that’s the point), but you don’t want conversation to go in directions you hadn’t anticipated.
Own the conversation
To do this, make sure you’ve got your finger on the pulse of public feeling before you go live with a campaign. Speak to your employees and keep an eye on social media to maintain an awareness of what’s important and relevant to your audience. Be ready to explain how your product relates to the topic at hand and what problem it solves. Have proof ready, in the form of data, and prepare scripts that help your representatives react to the controversy in a more authentic and satisfactory way.
Do something unique
This is perhaps the most important aspect of conducting a controversial marketing campaign. At the heart of any viral campaign is a conversation, and to get people talking you need to do something nobody else is. In the digital environment, ideas that push boundaries see higher engagement. You can do this by challenging an established paradigm or offering an unconventional solution to a conventional problem.
Overall, you need the courage to take risks and the preparation to mitigate those risks, and though it can be scary to court controversy, it’s been proven to pay huge dividends if you get it right.
Access the latest business knowledge in Marketing
Join the conversation...