Inviting controversy can be powerful

Inviting controversy can be powerful

I did a talk on Tuesday evening down in the New Forest. The audience was largely retired business women so I had to think hard about a topic that would be entertaining and interesting to them – most of my usual repertoire is more suitable to current business owners.

So I decided to look at how Sex has played a part in advertising and promotions through the ages, and how both major and minor brands are using ‘sex’ as a way to engage with their audience. Classics such as the Flake Adverts running from the 60s through to the 90s, the Gold Blend series, Brut – if you count Henry Cooper and Kevin Keegan as sex symbols! – and many more.

My favourite example was simply from a small local florist who cheekily had photos of himself getting in the shower with a discreetly placed rose, with the headline ‘Are you going to give her one this Valentine’s Day?’ Brilliant!

All the businesses using this approach have recognised that ‘sex’ is an important and engaging conversation – just look at the extraordinary success of ‘Fifty Shaes of Grey’ and consider just how BIG that conversation is. They have built and communicated their brand values far more effectively than by using a more earnest or ordinary approach.  And it’s fun too. Making people smile is a smart thing to do in advertising.

My audience loved it. So objective achieved.

But I think the biggest lesson I learned was when I discovered that a number of people had cancelled their booking when they saw the title for the talk. 

Was I troubled by that? No. Absolutely not. I most certainly don’t see my role in business as being about never offending anyone or always being non-contraversial. Being ‘grey’ may well be safe but it won’t attract anyone. Being controversial may put a few people off – but it will attract so many more. You put your head above the parrapet. 

So ask yourself, is your advertising and approach to marketing grey? Or are you inviting contrary opinion and starting a conversation.


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