Magazine article Marketing

The Forum: Is It the Place of Brands to Test the Boundaries of Taste?

Magazine article Marketing

The Forum: Is It the Place of Brands to Test the Boundaries of Taste?

Article excerpt

From Barnardo's to Paddy Power, a wide range of brands' ads have attracted complaints, but advertisers' motivation seems to be a key factor when it comes to consumers' and regulators' willingness to forgive them for pushing their luck. How can brands use it strategically?



MAYBE - While this shouldn't be the sole raison d'etre of any brand, the quest to stand out leads some toward the boundaries of taste. Brands sometimes court controversy and take a calculated risk that they will grab the attention of many more people than they offend. Get the calculation right and you enjoy the benefits of a campaign that punches well above its weight, but get it wrong and you can face a consumer backlash and brand ruin.

This balance is especially challenging for the charitable sector. Lots of fundraising relies on depictions of need for its success, and imagery that is acceptably shocking to some can offend others. Barnardo's 'Heroin Baby' ad was a famous example of pushing boundaries, but, with such a compelling cause and strategic need, few would argue it was the wrong approach. There are times when weathering an initial storm is a small price to pay for the greater benefit.


NO - When consumers are in need, the interference of brands can push the boundaries. After November's Paris attacks, companies were criticised for unhelpful displays of sympathy. T-Mobile's free communication with France, and Airbnb compensating hosts for letting guests stay longer, however, were seen as tangible, comforting gestures.

When the UK floods hit late last year, it was only right that we diverted resources to help customers. We deployed 'fix boxes' containing home comforts and emergency phone-chargers for families in alternative accommodation. We included 'Santa Stop Here!' signs, since children were worried that Santa wouldn't find them.

This simple gesture struck a chord with customers and received an overwhelmingly positive response. As a brand, it was important that we optimised existing activity in an appropriate and relevant way to help our customers in their hour of need. …

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