Brave Branding And Marketing Campaigns That Paid Off Spectacularly
One of the oddest aspects of marketing is that it is much easier to learn from the mistakes of marketing campaigns that have not worked rather than from innovative campaigns that have succeeded.
This is because marketing is about standing out, and whilst a lot of research, analysis and planning is undertaken before a major campaign, it is not always easy to tell what marketing campaigns will be effective.
This is especially true of brave, controversial and defiant campaigns that twist traditional conventions and attempt a very different approach to highlighting a brand and selling a product.
Here are some of the best examples of this paying off, and what lessons can be learned from these successes.
Avis – Not The Number One
Before we get to campaigns that caused outrage, shock and success, it is important to talk about one of the earliest and most influential adverts that broke the rules and were exceptionally brave.
In the car rental world, Avis is one of the biggest names, with branches across the world that offer competitive car hire. However, it has not always been the biggest, with Hertz often thwarting this goal as by far its largest rival.
In what became a truly genius move, Avis leaned into this perception as a number 2 in the industry with the “Avis can’t afford not to be nice” campaign, which highlighted that because they had no laurels to rest on, they had to provide the best service going and try harder.
It worked incredibly and profits soared.
Self-depreciation is an effective rhetorical tactic, but to use it effectively, you need to know your position in the market and what you want to tell your audience.
Gillette – The Best Men Can Be
One of the most dominant forms of brave and controversial advertising is cause marketing, where a brand engages with social issues in a more active way than supporting a charitable cause or donating a small percentage of revenue to charity.
Whilst Pepsi and Kendall Jenner have infamously highlighted how badly wrong this can go, Gillette adopted a different, more reflective and honest approach to a major social issue.
In “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be”, razor company Gillette highlighted how toxic masculinity has evolved through decades of culture, including by Gillette themselves, and how standing up to harassment and bullying will set an example for the future.
It was a refreshing, controversial advert that ultimately paid off for Gillette and started a serious conversation in the same way Nike and Colin Kaepernick’s advert did.
Cause marketing only works if you truly believe in the cause you are supporting, so do not attempt an advert based on social responsibility if you are unwilling to commit to the cause you preach.
Paddy Power – Nearly Everything
Controversial betting company Paddy Power has attempted nearly every controversial tactic under the sun, and whilst some individual campaigns such as the “Good at Sport, Climb Aboard” advert and others focusing on figures such as Rolf Harris and Oscar Pistorius did not work, others were much more successful.
For all their near-knuckle antics, however, Paddy Power’s reputation for gambling (pun intended) on controversy works more often than it does not.
The “unsponsor” campaign where they removed the shirt logo from Huddersfield Town, the Scotland Euro 2016 anthem (where they did not qualify) and the four-letter-word tirade at disgraced FIFA President Sepp Blatter worked to boost their renegade image.
Ultimately, controversy works if you are willing to lean into it, apologise if you go too far but ultimately commit to being a brand that will not have universal appeal.
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