Guest Column: How brands can use controversy to their advantage?

Controversy gets brands the eyeballs, but for it to generate sales, brands need to have a well demarcated strategy, as shared by Saurabh Parmar, CEO & Founder, Brandlogist

e4m by Saurabh Parmar
Published: Nov 8, 2013 5:00 PM  | 3 min read
Guest Column: How brands can use controversy to their advantage?

Is controversy good for business?

That’s a question which came up at a seminar that I was attending a few days back, and though a lot of advertisers would tend to agree with that, I have a different take.

Controversy gets you eyeballs. It definitely does. Saying something controversial will get people to notice you, some to talk about you, and a few to even remember you.

Eyeballs/ awareness does not always lead to sales. In fact, in a world with more brands and more advertising, awareness beyond a point just becomes noise.

Yes, we have to be aware of a brand before buying it, but think about this, there are so many brands that we are aware of, but what fraction of them do we actually buy?

The key today is increasingly becoming quality of voice and not share of voice.

A few pointers from my perspective when it comes to controversy and its role in marketing/ business:

Who is this controversial for: Most controversies have at least two perspectives to them. A lot of marketers when looking at something controversial think of either the opportunity for buzz or get scared of the negative publicity. Rather, they should be looking at the connect with their TG or potential TG.

If something I say agrees with the people who are my customers, no matter how controversial it might be for everyone else, it makes sense to share it. In fact, it can become an opportunity for my customers, who go beyond a one-off connect, to identifying and rallying around the brand. Think Apple or even Tehelka, brands that have done controversial stuff, but have a loyal base of followers.

Never controversy for the sake of controversy: A controversy which generates short-term buzz in the minds of the right TG, but may not connect with the brand’s long-term agenda, is something that definitely should be avoided. A controversial marketing stunt may last only a few weeks, but its impact stays on for some time. If it is something which does not resonate with your target audience later, then there is a problem.

Be honest: Controversies that work best for businesses in terms of long-term impact are based on reality, what you as a brand genuinely believe in. Your customers are not fools. Sooner or later they will be able to see through any fabricated lie and that will hurt your brand. But something which is true, even if controversial, pulls in the right people.

An example is the original Brandlogist blog for our April Fool’s day campaign. Though it was controversial for the advertising fraternity, but it was something that we truly believed in. As a result, despite existing in the market for just one and a half years, we generate good interest from people who identify with the same values, and those who don’t… well that’s no “skin off my back”!

Also, remember that there is a difference between a controversy and a marketing gimmick. A gimmick does not upset people and yet is different enough to generate consumer interest. If done well, it gets the right engagement for the brand and even resonates with the target customer. Following is an example of a smart marketing gimmick – pop-up shop selling air, moonlight and sunshine.

The author is CEO and Founder of Brandlogist. 

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