The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Recent History’s Most Controversial Ads

By Gordon Donnelly

Most Controversial Ads

We’ve made the case for controversial marketing in the past. Campaigns that rise above monotony, trigger a strong emotional response, and drive widespread engagement can experience unprecedented returns on investment. The name of the game—in advertising, as in most aspects of life—is balance. When does the incendiary become scandalous? When does gender targeting become sexist? At what number of Monday bathroom breaks, having already taken five, have you officially taken a sick day?

No matter the medium, these are the questions (the first two, to be sure) we marketers must ask ourselves before embarking on an against-the-grain, or an “out there” campaign. Luckily for us, there are myriad advertisers in recent history for whom abandoning the cookie-cutter has also meant abandoning common sense. Just the same, plenty of campaigns have found the line, toed it deftly, and enjoyed rampant success.

So the question remains: Where is the line? In the embarrassment of controversial ads we examined, we found two lines, delineating three distinct categories. We took the best of the best from each category, and voilà:

The Good

We’re a positive bunch of marketers here at WordStream. Let’s start with a nod to an “iffy” campaign that, in recent history, boasted great results.

Most Controversial Advertisements Recent

You flirted with disaster and came out victorious. Good on ya’.

1. Carl’s Jr.’s “Au Naturel” ft. Charlotte McKinney (2015)

Most Controversial Advertisements Recent Charlotte

Perhaps the most conservative gif that came out of this campaign.

Former CEO Andy Puzder has said that sexy burger ads saved Carl’s Jr. from obsoletion.“If you don’t complain,” he told Entrepreneur, “I go to the head of marketing and say, ‘What’s wrong with our ads?’ Those complaints aren’t necessarily bad for us. What you look at is…sales. And our sales go up.”

Football fans: you remember this one from Super Bowl XLIX. The suggestive looks. The epic lighting. The guy shaving ice who, when Charlotte McKinney walks nudely by, starts shaving ever more distractedly, ever more vigorously.

Most Controversial Ads Ice Shaving

Hopefully though, you noticed something else about Ice Shaving Guy (ISG). He’s wearing a sweater. In fact, all the male voyeurs in this ad are wearing inexplicably warm clothing (on what is ostensibly a sweltering day). They’re also in various stages of cooling—besides ISG, there’s the guy in the flannel, working the hose…

Most Controversial Ads Flannel Guy

and the guy struggling with an inordinate amount of bread (another cooling agent, think about it)…

Most Controversial Ads Bread

Which brings us to the first reason this ad succeeds:

1. Executes a damn good aesthetic

So much of this is about drawing attention, which means creating contrast. For Carl’s Jr., contrast amounts to a pristine-looking McKinney making a collection of rough-and-tumble, overdressed men hot under the collar. It’s tough not to look at this ad and come Go to the full article.

Source:: Business 2 Community

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