Controversial advertising has been used often by brands. One of the most interesting ads ever seen on Nigerian TV is a condom ad that aired almost twenty years ago.
Let me narrate: most of the action takes place on a bus. Between the jostling and hustling of the passengers and the rocking motion of the bus, one of the standing passengers drops something and the bus conductor sees it. He picks it up and, raising his voice, begins to ask, “Who get this raincoat? I say who get this condom?”
A man, clearly embarrassed, mentions the name of the brand and then says, “Abeg na my own.”
The other passengers start giggling and making fun of the man, but a lady speaks up and applauds his wisdom and stresses the importance of using protection. And then, as the man gets to his bus stop and alights, the conductor says, “Oga, softly softly for madam tonight o!”
It was a recurring joke for a while. Guys would say it to their friends whenever a girl came visiting, the cashier at the pharmacy would say it to anyone who came to buy a condom. After a while, the popularity of the ad made the regulatory board at that time shift the airing time to the evenings.
It was a bit controversial, they said. Kids shouldn’t be watching that, they said.
So they moved it.
Controversial advertising has been a very present part of advertising since forever; controversy sells. Some of the most memorable ads have some sort of controversy to them, some drama that keeps the viewer glued to the screen and remembering the product long after the ad has stopped showing. But sometimes, some of the controversies can stretch the borders of decency.
A while ago, advertising of cigarettes was banned from TV and radio, and their boxes were made to carry big ‘SMOKING KILLS’ bands in front where the brand name/logo would usually be. This was an attempt to reduce smoking on the parts of youths after considerable noise was made on the sudden increase of lung cancer among that demographic.
I think the statistics speak for themselves, whether the plan worked or not.
Controversial advertising has its uses. Controversy can be used to spark a much-needed conversation about a particular issue. It can be used to draw attention to something that otherwise would be ignored, something people are more comfortable not talking about. But sometimes, in the name of making a ‘controversial advert,’ the point is missed. The whole point of the ad is sacrificed for a little controversy and the effort is wasted.
For example, an ad that made the rounds on TV had a guy go to a store to purchase a condom. He sits in his car, holding the product and, for some reason I cannot fathom, he suddenly has a look of ecstasy on his face. A pair of feminine arms wrap around him in place of a seatbelt and he’s getting pleasure from some unidentifiable source. Suddenly a car horn startles him, he returns from fantasy land realizing he’s holding up traffic.
The purpose for the controversy is clear: maximum protection shouldn’t interfere with your pleasure. But do we only use condoms in cars? The use of the seat-belt forces the ad into a context – a context that doesn’t represent the product properly.
That’s a controversial fail.
For a while, all that the mobile service network providers did via their ads was to take subliminal shots at each other. They many times used their brand colors to do so. The yellow guys would do an ad making fun of the color green and the red guys would do an ad in which yellow and green boxes are tossed into the trunk of a car and so on. It became a bit open when the yellow guys did an ad about porting using a popular actor. At the beginning of the ad, the stage and everything on it was green. And then, everything became yellow.
What made the ad more interesting is the actor had done an ad for the competition (the green guys), so everything came together to create a brilliant campaign. That’s controversy done right.
Controversial advertising shouldn’t be used for controversy’s sake. It should be used in a brilliant, interesting way that stands the ad out and makes the product top on the mind of the consumer. A controversy that makes an ad noticeable, but fails to move products has failed.
Our ads need to get more creative and controversial. There’s space for ads to be talked about. There are conversations to be had around interesting ads and products.
Controversy sells. Controversy done right is the bomb.
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Photo Credit: ReDahlia