Academic journal article
By Waller, David S.
Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior , Vol. 20
Causing people to take offense can occur when a marketer undertakes a controversial advertising campaign. What can make this a particularly important issue is when companies make what for many individuals is a controversial product, like condoms, erectile dysfunction drugs, feminine hygiene products and certain kinds of underwear. Such companies manufacture legitimate products for their target customers, and they need to be able to communicate an effective message to their customers without causing offense that can lead to dissatisfaction, negative publicity, the rejection of the message, boycotts, other forms of complaining behavior, or other unpleasant outcomes.
This article presents the results of a survey of 265 university students to examine whether they perceive particular gender-related products as offensive, what execution techniques, if any, lead them to find advertisements offensive, in general, and to calculate correlations to find out any potential association between specific gender-related products and specific offensive advertising execution techniques. The inquiry uncovered a number of execution techniques that were perceived as offensive and there were several statistical differences in comparisons between gender and age.
In recent years, a number of well-known manufacturer/marketers, such as Benetton and Calvin Klein, have undertaken controversial advertising campaigns that have been very successful; however, not all have proven to be effective. Indeed, some campaigns have backfired and have been damaging to the company and its brand image (Curtis 2002; Irvine 2000; Pope, Voges and Brown 2004).
A major reason for the intentional use of controversial themes and images is that they have the potential to creatively "cut through the clutter" to gain attention and brand awareness (Waller 1999). This has been a successful strategy for companies like French Connection UK, Wonderbra, Love Kylie, among others, and has gained a large amount of publicity with amazingly inexpensive albeit controversial campaigns; the same can be said for some non-profit organizations with public service announcements against smoking, use of illicit drugs, and drunk driving (Severn, Belch and Belch 1990; Waller 1999; Crosier and Erdogan 2001; Dahl, Frankenberger and Manchanda 2003; Miller 2003).
For marketers, the problem can be that a controversial advertising campaign can be very successful or very damaging, depending upon what ultimately happens in the marketplace. For example, the clothing company Benetton has long been criticized for its advertising which uses controversial images to deliver a message of "social concern" (Evans and Sumandeep 1993; Dahl, Frankenbergerand Manchanda 2003; Chan et al. 2007), until the "death-row" campaign was felt to have gone too far (Curtis 2002). Similar problems were experienced by Calvin Klein, which had been criticized for running campaigns with explicit sexual images and had to publicly apologize after the outrage caused by a campaign that was alleged to have used images of child pornography (Anon 1995; Irvine 2000).
The result of a controversial advertising campaign can, therefore, be embarrassing, distasteful or even offensive to some part of the viewing audience. This dissatisfaction can lead to a number of consumer initiated actions, such as negative word-of-mouth, complaints to company hotlines, complaints to advertising regulatory bodies, cutbacks/reductions in customary purchase levels of the products/brands advertised, product and even company boycotts (Crosier and Erdogan 2001; Waller 2005).
Marketers wanting to undertake a controversial campaign often tread a fine line between successfully communicating to the target market and seriously offending some individuals...members and non-members of the targeted group(s). Interestingly, even though some people can be offended by certain advertising campaigns, advertisers are apparently not shying away from but rather are using controversy in increasing numbers. …