Chick-fil-A-logoOver the past year, major brands such as Chic-fil-A, Starbucks, and Hobby Lobby have made headlines for their controversial political stances. Based on the negative press coverage, you’d think more brands would steer clear of such controversial situations, but brands such as Nike are reveling in the buzz, defending their controversial ads and content.

Recent studies reveal that controversies raise brand awareness. Sales typically dip on the front-end of a controversy, but the brand also gets attention and coverage that can’t be bought. Increased attention ends up being beneficial for most brands, as long as they can withstand the initial heat.

Brands that have used controversies to improve sales include:

  • JBS Underwear, which used female models to sell more men’s underwear. Instead of having male models show off the company’s boxer shorts, half naked female models wearing JBS Underwear were used to get men’s attention.
  • American Apparel. You wouldn’t know that this company sells clothes based on their ads. Porn stars and naked models make AA look tame in comparison.
  • Jour Apres Lune. While we’ve seen male and female models add sex appeal to advertising everywhere, the sexualization of young children is particularly noticeable – and controversial.

Now just because these brands successfully harnessed the power of controversial content, does this mean controversy is a good content strategy for your brand? Definitely not. But it’s worth considering.

Controversial content in marketing is a grey area since it’s impossible to predict how the media and market will react. Ultimately, it comes down to the conversation topic and how the controversy is handled, especially if it concerns politics.

How to Consider Controversial Content for Marketing

The important lesson is that brands shouldn’t rule out controversies altogether. A risky move can get people talking about your brand, elevating your virtual and real-world presence overnight. This isn’t to say you should stir up a scandal for the sake of a scandal, but it’s certainly the quickest way to spice things up.

When considering controversial content, be sure to:

  • A/B Test. If you’re unsure if your controversial content is crossing the line, then embrace A/B testing to avoid a public gaffe. And of course, see if there are any brands with campaigns similar to what you’re considering and learn from their example.
  • Avoid mud-slinging. Regardless of the controversial nature surrounding the Chic-fil-A, Hobby Lobby, and Nike controversies, the companies always maintained dignity when handling the press and angry consumers. Controversy gets people’s attention, and now that you have it, be sure to behave appropriately under the microscope.
  • Bring up controversy without engaging it. If your company has a blog or any other social platform, you can bring up controversy and allow readers to comment without having to reveal a specific stance yourself. You can achieve this through newsjacking, publishing posts that compare two different things, or simply be the messenger by publishing the results of a controversial study. This way you can begin a conversation without offending anyone.

Has your business engaged in controversy, accidentally or on purpose? What was the end result?