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Controversial Marketing – Does It Bring Better or Worse Results?

Controversial topics for discussions pop up every now and then. TV commercials, smartphone games, celebrities, and other people and things around us become the #1 reason for hot disputes and discussions. We simply can’t stop talking about them from time to time. While many of us get caught up in the “controversies of the month”, just a few notice that the most disputable topics do not arise from nowhere. Who crafts them? The answer is simple – marketers.

Any controversial topic is not a pure coincidence. There is always someone standing behind the controversy in one way or another. Controversial marketing is always a high risk but when played right, it can bring great rewards. Video commercials, print ads, social media banners, and shock news are the first to captivate the users’ eye and become the main topics for discussion.

Marketers put a great effort into making users open discussions when incorporating highly controversial topics in billboards and print ads. However, with a growing evolvement of online marketing and social media platforms, Facebook and YouTube have become other popular media for making people stare and talk.

What benefits does controversial marketing bring to brands? Quite a lot. That type of content generates a large number of debates and provokes public engagement in the life of a specific company. However, one should be very cautious when working on a disputable story. One wrong word/phrase/image can cause serious damage to the person/brand standing behind the story.

Over recent years, we have seen a number of popular controversies. Let’s highlight the most remarkable ones.

Most Popular Controversies


Ford Figo ad that leaked in 2013

The cartoon shows the former Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, in a new Ford car with several gagged ladies. That was the time when Mr. Berlusconi was being investigated for sexual abuse charges. If you look closer at the ad, you will see a slogan - "Leave Your Worries Behind".



Burger King ad from 2014

The company released an ad promoting their 7-inch sandwich under the slogan "It will blow you away". It featured a photo of a woman in a suggestive pose, with a burger creating a sense of controversy. The issue was that the image of the lady was taken from a random stock image site, so she wasn’t even in a position to give or deny permission for her to be placed in such a pose. However, since the woman had signed a legal document, the company was allowed to release that ad.



Abercrombie and Fitch Won’t Sell Clothes to Ugly People

They are well known for creating impressively good looking outfits. The brand managed to create a huge controversy saying that they don’t want to sell their clothes to ugly people. “Good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that” that’s what CEO Mike Jeffries said back in 2006.

Did this work? Well, it did but only for some time. 2013 saw a significant change in the attitude and the public awareness. The idea of exclusiveness that was standing behind Abercrombie and Fitch was popular only for a specific period of time. When that time passed, the company faded out. Sales dropped, stores started to close.


Neil Patel Sells Online Courses via Sexist Banner Ads

Neil Patel is one of the most popular names in the field of online marketing. While other online marketers prefer to play it safe, Neil is known for his exploitative tactics like using undeletable cookies, fake site analyzers raking in opt-ins, etc. Another controversial method that Neil makes heavy use of is “sex sells”. It’s a common thing to see images of “hot babes” all around the content that he shares on his site.

He once featured a banner ad with a playboy star, Sara Underwood. That’s where Sara commented: “Neil taught me how to make money without taking off my clothes.”



X-Men Apocalypse Poster with “Mystique”

On seeing the poster, celebrities expressed disgust at the idea of promoting violence against a woman on an advertisement. In response to the uproar of thousands of Twitter users and institutions like the International Center for Research on Women, the poster was rejected. Still, it managed to collect millions of impressions.


Wrapping it up, controversy can either do wonders for, or damage, a business. So, the golden rule to follow is to be careful in your statements and think through every detail of a potentially controversial campaign. Is there a strong statement that favours one side? Is there also a space enabling you to roll back when necessary? Put out the message carefully and decide on the way it will be presented to the public.

Apart from controversial marketing, there are other popular online marketing techniques (though not much appreciated) that will make people talk. What we are talking about are different aspects of black hat marketing.

Black Hat SEO

When it comes to black hat marketing, black hat SEO techniques are the first that come to our mind. Generally speaking, all approaches and techniques that are being used in search engine marketing can be divided into two main groups - white hat and black hat. While the former follows all the rules and policies of search engines, build SEO- friendly websites , and create content with the focus on a human audience, the latter opts for aggressive SEO strategies. Black hat SEO targets search engines rather than human beings who browse the web with the intention of finding the data that will match their search intentions perfectly.

We live in an age when search engines change their algorithms with the intention of enhancing the users' browsing experience every now and again. It has become a tough challenge for business owners to keep up with the constant SEO changes. In an effort to make their sites more findable, a business owner may opt for tricky SEO techniques that can do more harm than good.

Here are the most wide-spread black hat SEO tricks to avoid.


Duplicated Content

Creating unique, useful content takes quite a lot of time and effort. So, in order to update their pages with new pieces of data on a regular basis, site owners used to copy content from other resources and share it on their own platforms. Google is a smart machine that is not that easy to fool (though it's possible) and it doesn't rank duplicated content high in its search results. In fact, a website with copied data risks being listed on the last page of Google rankings.


Using too Many Keywords

Not that long ago, we used to think that the more keywords we added to our posts and pages, the better it would be for our sites' SEO. Back in the 2000s, we stuffed our pages with dozens of keywords, featured those in H1 tags and blog posts with the only goal to be #1 in Google. The situation is different today. Now, the content that brings real value to the users is better ranked by Google rather than the one made up of keywords only.


Buying Links Back to Your Site

If we are talking about Google, then the quality and quantity of links that link back to your site is important in terms of the proper ranking in search engines. The mistake that business owners often make is buying links from high authority websites. This is generally accepted as one of the quickest ways of getting back-links without much effort. However, Google search bots are clever enough to see that. Buying links is completely against Google Webmaster Guidelines, which can result in a penalty. Is that really what you are searching for?


Hacked, Malicious sites

Google blocks sites that it thinks can bring any kind of damage to the users who reach it. So, just in case you are hacked with malicious code and your site starts sending out spammy links, more likely than not you will be blocked from public access.

In a word, when it comes to black hat SEO, there are a lot of things to take into account. The golden rule that one needs to follow in order not to be penalized by Google is to provide unique, quality content that brings value to the users that it targets. Follow Google's Webmaster Guidelines. Exercise some patience when creating your content. Find your own SEO tactics that will work for your company and the effort will surely pay off.

Black Hat Social Media Marketing

In social media marketing, there is a really long list of the best and worst practices for which an online marketer should/should not opt. In an effort to grow their online visibility, lots of brands take a risk and apply black hat social media marketing techniques when building their online strategies. Black hat approaches go against written and unwritten social media rules. These are the techniques that people opt for in order to fool the system and attain high (though risky) results in the shortest period of time.

Some black hat social media tactics are easy to identify but others are leveraged by thousands of brands every day (pretty often, unintentionally). Here are the most wide-spread black hat social media strategies and the possible ways to clean them up.


Purchasing Fans and Followers

Today, there are loads of services and platforms letting you buy your social media audience. Why is this harmful for a brand? First and foremost, it will damage the relationship between real customers and the company (in case they discover that you are on shaky ground). Next, the audience that you acquire is hardly likely to be interested in your business and the offerings that you produce. So, this will only be a waste of both money and precious time. And finally, the acquired fans may be spammers and hackers that can cause potential risk to the security of your web resource.

Today, there are loads of services and platforms letting you buy your social media audience. Why is this harmful for a brand? First and foremost, it will damage the relationship between real customers and the company (in case they discover that you are on shaky ground). Next, the audience that you acquire is hardly likely to be interested in your business and the offerings that you produce. So, this will only be a waste of both money and precious time. And finally, the acquired fans may be spammers and hackers that can cause potential risk to the security of your web resource.

Resolution? It's always better to grow your follower base in a natural way. There are loads of ways of attracting new clients and keeping them engaged. These include interactive videos, posts, polls, promotions, captivating status updates, and a whole lot of other interactive content that is being created on a regular basis on social media platforms.


Boosting Traffic via Sending Spammy Messages

You have definitely seen users commenting on posts/tweets with random phrases that have no relation to the content to which it's supposed to refer. Is it likely that people will read such messages and take the actions they are asked to take? Hardly. Instead, people will get more frustrated when seeing those posts in their feeds, which increases your chances of being blocked and marked as spam.

If one sees spammers of this kind leaving comments below each and every social media post they come across, it's better to report them. Still, it will hardly solve the problem.

The solution at this point will be to post relevant content for traffic. You can participate in discussions on forums on the topics that are somehow related to your business niche. You can also use relevant hashtags in your posts, which are likely to attract the target audience looking for updates on a specific topic.

Using Facebook Cover Photos for Commercial Purposes

Although it is strongly prohibited to place more than 20% of the text on the cover image, share any pricing or promotional data, some brands violate the rules covered by the Facebook Page Terms.

If you wish to use a Facebook cover photo for promotional purposes, you can do that with a little more imagination. For example, you can present it in the form of a collage imager made up of photos taken by your clients. These can be snapshots of new products, with a little bit of written data, but still excluding excessive text, CTAs, and pricing details.

That’s pretty much it. Do you need a tip on where to find an idea for a disputable, controversial topic that you can spread all over the web? Don’t you think that TM Affiliate Program might be a cool source?

templatemonster affiliate program

Tina Jameson

Would you like to learn more about affiliate marketing and TemplateMonster affiliate program? My articles will give you more information about different marketing features and blogging. You can also ask me some questions in Quora.

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