Controversial Branding, Can Be Damaging but Can Be Effective When Done Right
It has been said that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but does this statement apply to marketing as well? Some products might be banking on it.
My least favorite article I ever wrote for The Viking News revolved around this topic. “Starbucks’ War on Christmas” was the headline and it had to do with the dreaded red cup the coffee chain went with rather than the more festive decor. But for all my displeasure of ranting against people who griped about the lack of holiday spirit at Starbucks, there was another story to be told.
Sales increased for Starbucks that earnings quarter by nine percent, despite the controversy, or maybe because of it. From disgruntled customers to the now Tweeter in Chief himself, President Donald Trump, many swore to boycott the chain, yet for each tweet that was sent out and every article that was written, the brand Starbucks remained in the public view.
Other companies have also jumped onto controversial branding, like Duclaw Brewing Company’s Sweet Baby Jesus porter (which is delicious), or Dick’s Last Resort, a restaurant on the San Antonio Riverwalk where customers pay to be harassed by the staff, but not everyone has thick enough skin to endure that meal. On a petition site CitizenGo.org, over 12,000 signatures have been collected demanding the owners of an ice cream parlour, Sweet Jesus, to apologize for blasphemy and to change their name immediately.
“The message is clear,” reads the CitizenGo petition named ‘Toronto-Based Ice Cream Parlours Serve Up Blasphemy’. “‘Sweet Jesus’ is all about trashing Christianity and mocking the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is deeply offensive and an outright attack on the Christian community of Canada!”
While the Canadian ice cream shop shows no signs of giving up their name or products, many other companies have caved to public outrage. Take for instance the Pepsi commercial that featured Kendall Jenner handing a can of Pepsi to a police officer in the middle of a protest, giving a very poor imitation of the Black Lives Matter protests.
Critics both mocked and condemned the soda giant’s commercial to the point that Pepsi removed the ad within the same day of it being released and apologized not only to those offended, but to Kendall Jenner as well. This wasn’t the first time a major corporation made use of a social justice movement to try to push a product, but it was a failure for Pepsi, missing their mark, pissing off their customers, and having to can an advertisement they undoubtedly spent millions on.
Not every company can pull off controversial campaigns or products, but it would seem those that fail to do it successfully are the ones who never had any intention to offend in the first place.