Scandalous Advertising: How Does It Make Possible to Reach the Consumer?


It’s no secret that ads sell what businesses offer. Promoting products and services online or offline exposes them to the public. Having in mind that visibility is the key to a successful business, ads are the essential element of every marketing strategy.

Some businesses would do whatever it takes just to be noticed. One of the popular ways to get people’s attention is by using scandalous advertising a.k.a. controversial advertising. As multiple sources define it, scandalous or controversial advertising is a technique that grabs the public’s attention for stating an opinion and it’s used by brands to start a conversation about certain moral values. This type of ads usually includes social issues that are sensitive to talk about, such as sexual minorities, sexual subtext, politics, race, etc.

Scroll down to learn how this type of ad might impact your business and whether you should utilize it.

Scandalous Advertising as a Method to Reach the Consumer

A LED sign with Scandalous word on the wall.
Businesses take risks to attract customers with the help of scandalous ads.

In the digital era, advertising is one of the industries where businesses spend the most money on. Billions of dollars are in just to be seen. While some smaller companies rely solely on Facebook and Instagram ads, others spend millions to be shown on world-famous events, such as the Super Bowl. Regardless of which marketing method you use, you don’t want to see your money going down the drain. That’s why you always aim to do as much as you can to see a great return on investment (ROI).

Since the competition is very big, many businesses would do whatever it takes just to stand out from the rest. Many of them take risks and use current events just to grab the public’s attention. Most of them succeed, getting either positive or negative attention and response from the public. How? By using scandalous ads.

What Makes Scandalous Advertising So Powerful?

A power button is turning an ad into a strong tool.
Scandalous ads cause diverse reactions that can even destroy the brand.

Many business owners wonder what makes scandalous advertising that powerful. Because it’s different from conventional ads. Unlike conventional ads, scandalous ads go in the opposite direction. They go beyond the limits of social dos and don’ts by touching sensitive topics people don’t talk about. Although risky, this method ensures people will talk about your brand – positively or negatively. But you know how they say, it’s better to be talked about than not.

Scandalous advertising is seen as a powerful way to get the public’s attention. Including or referring to social issues that concern people is the best way to create a buzz and go viral. Thanks to the internet and social media, virality guarantees exposure.

Indeed, creating a scandalous ad will most probably catch people’s attention to your brand or product/service you sell. However, if you don’t make it good enough, it will destroy your brand. Or, at least, it will lead to negative responses from the public you have to face.

Examples of Scandalous Ads and What We Can Learn from Them

Since scandalous advertising has proven to work for brands, some companies are purposely thinking about how to create controversial ads. However, the risk is big. If you don’t make it, you will break it. So, when creating such ads, you have to come up with an ad that will touch people emotionally and they will identify or relate to the ad’s story.

Here are 6 examples of scandalous ads that worked and failed and the reason why: 

  • “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be.” – Gillette

A man is shaving his face with a Gilette.
Gilette advertised positive masculinity that caused both positive and negative reactions of the public.

Unlike any other ad from Gillette, this one has nothing to do with shaving and beards. It went the opposite direction to promote positive masculinity. There were positive and negative responses of course, but the ad went viral and had over 30 million views and customer engagement like never before. Why it was successful?

Because their ad had value for the audience. Part of the audience related to it in some way. Both men and women liked what they saw and the way it was presented. 

  • “Save the Whales” – PETA

PETA is a renowned organization that tries to protect animals in every way possible. But, when they aired their campaign “Save the Whales”, they did a terrible mistake. The ad led to a bad reputation of the brand and they had to remove it. Why wasn’t it successful?

Because they used an overweighed female on their ad and the text “Lose the blubber.” Trying to be different from the rest, they went contrary to the body positivism movement. The campaign was offensive for some people. That brought them nothing but a bad reputation.

  • Real Beauty Campaign – Dove

Dove is a well-known and established business. They had a lot of great ads throughout the years. But, when they aired their “Real Beauty” campaign, things got bad. In the commercial, they show an African-American woman turning white after using Dove. Although they wanted to say their products clean all skin problems, using race as a topic was the wrong choice. Why the ad failed?

It’s because many people perceived it as white skin is pure and clean and dark skin is dirty. As a business, you don’t want to get into racial issues and be attacked by the audience. That’s why you should always think about the demographic of the public and how they will perceive your story. 

  • Carl’s Jr. Ad

The Carl’s Jr. Super Bowl ad followed the “sex sells” path. Using nearly naked women eating burgers and saying that “She’ll tell you size doesn’t matter. She’s lying.” The brand created a sexual subtext commercial. But all those sexy vibes and nearly naked women made a boom within seconds. Why the ad succeeded?

The company followed the “no publicity is bad publicity” claim. But they used sex and women’s seduction as a method for attracting customers. The end result was extreme virality and 2.5 billion earned media impressions before actually being shown on the Super Bowl. 

  • Unhate – United Colors of Benetton

A banner of United Colors of Benetton.
This advertising campaign was shocking as it appealed to political issues and homosexuality.

The Unhate campaign from the United Colors of Benetton is one of the most shocking ads out there. Depicting images of world leaders kissing, this brand has used current political issues around the globe and homosexuality to touch the audience. It embraced cultural diversity as good and all humans as equal and promoted the closeness between cultures, religions, and people. As Geometry Global’s Hennessy said, it raised points of cultural difference, security, and conflict in one picture. Although they weren’t selling a particular product, people talked about their campaign – and, in business, that’ all that matters. 

  • Acreage Holdings’ Cannabis Ad

Unlike any of the above-mentioned ads, this one is different in a way that it doesn’t use sexuality, politics, nor any social issues. The ad shows three men with serious health issues. One of them suffers from epilepsy, the second one has chronic back pain, and the third man suffers from horrible pain caused by losing his leg during his military service. All of them claim that CBD has helped reduce their symptoms and improved their life.

It seems like a regular ad. Yet, it wasn’t aired during the Super Bowl. CBS rejected the ad because it was too controversial due to promoting medical cannabis (also found as CBD) products. Although medical marijuana has been legalized in the USA, a lot of people and companies don’t accept it as an industry. So, the controversy about this ad has nothing to do with offending someone or something, rather with the product being promoted. 

Although Acreage Holdings were prepared to pay between 5 and 10 million dollars for airing the ad during the Super Bowl, it wasn’t played. Nonetheless, it became a topic people talked about because of the injustice done to the brand. If you look for it online, you will see many reputable sites, writing about the ad. Having in mind that people read these sites, they still got to see the commercial.

The bottom line

Now you should probably have an idea of what scandalous advertising is and how it might impact the industries. Although it may be a powerful tool to reach the consumer, it may lead to negative publicity towards your brand. That is why when crafting such ads, you are to take into account a lot of different socio-culture aspects to not get failed when your ad goes live and viral.

Solver Author: Solver

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