How to Use Controversy in Content Marketing without Sinking Your Brand
Consumers are getting turned off by traditional marketing because it has become so pervasive. As marketing campaigns become more intrusive, consumers are learning how to “tune out” the different corporate messages. Many skip pages of ads in magazines, click “skip ad” on YouTube, or use their DVRs to skip television commercials.
Marketers know that consumers are getting irritated, and as a result, are tweaking their marketing efforts to get their attention. Many marketers are using shock advertising (also known as shockvertising) and other unconventional methods to get consumers to slam on the brakes and engage with their content.
Other marketers, being less concerned with hype, have chosen to focus their efforts on content marketing. Content marketing is concerned with creating and distributing high-quality content that is designed to target a clearly defined audience. The ultimate objective of content marketing is to drive profitable customer action.
Marketers understand that personal recommendations and word-of-mouth advertising are often just as effective as multi-million dollar marketing campaigns. Content marketing is particularly powerful because it gives its audience the ability to share interesting content with others through platforms such as social networks. In other words, content that goes viral and reaches a wider audience could positively influence consumer behavior.
Too much of a good thing: Content Shock
On the other hand, it can be argued that too much content is now being produced. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 93% of B2B marketers are using content marketing this year; a 2% increase over 2012. Different brands are investing millions of dollars in their content—but what happens when supply begins to exceed demand?
Marketing thought leaders like Mark Schaefer argue that oversaturation is just around the corner. Schaefer coined the term “Content Shock” to describe a dreary future in which so much content is being produced that supply begins to outstrip demand. Some researchers believe that the amount of available web-based content is doubling every 9 to 14 months.
While many online marketers are producing relevant, targeted content of exceptional quality, others are producing content that is mediocre, and some are producing content that can only be described as abysmal. As major search engines like Google continue to favor publishers of high-quality content, only the best content from the most authoritative publishers will be consumed.
To really stand out, online marketers will need to get creative with their content. One way for online marketers to gain the attention of consumers and create a buzz is to incorporate some controversy into their content marketing strategies.
Using controversy in content marketing
Shockvertising is one means of harnessing the power of controversy in its most extreme form.
Shockvertising is designed to deliberately startle and offend its audience by violating social norms and personal ideals. This often leads to highly disturbing and controversial advertisements. Different taboo subjects have been represented in shockvertising—including murder, misogyny, racism, and graphic sexuality.
Aside from delivering powerful messages, shock advertisements often receive a great deal of attention because they stir up such strong emotions in their viewers. Designers like Tom Ford and the clothing brand Benetton are notorious for using shockvertising in their marketing campaigns. While often extreme, shock advertisements can teach online marketers the value of using controversy to gain the attention of consumers.
Creating controversial content that will generate a buzz, but won’t damage your brand
Using controversy to fuel your content marketing strategies is like using sorcery. Sorcery is immensely powerful, and when used the right way can lead to out-of-this-world results. Used incorrectly, and it could have destructive consequences.
The number of shock advertisements and guerilla marketing campaigns that have tarnished brands and led to disastrous reversals of fortune could fill books. Online marketers should take heed, and use controversy in the right context and in the right dosage for their content marketing campaigns.
It is not advisable for content marketers to incorporate many of the offensive taboo elements found in shockvertising in their content marketing. According to the whitepaper “When, Why, and How Controversy Causes Conversation,” which was published in the Journal of Consumer Research, extremely controversial topics actually received less engagement and generated less conversation than topics that had low to mild levels of controversy.
Highly controversial topics, being taboo, actually make people feel uncomfortable, and as a result are less likely to be discussed or shared by individuals. Online marketers, especially those who’re creating content for business blogs, are better off creating content that generates low to mild levels of controversy.
Online marketers could apply the “Toilet Paper Strategy” to their content marketing—in other words, produce content that does not violate social norms and personal ideals. One example of a bizarre but hotly debated topic is toilet paper orientation. There’s even a 6,000 word article about it on Wikipedia.
As an online marketer, you shouldn’t be afraid to introduce topics that engage, bother, and irritate your readers. Study your target audience and find out what they care about so that you’ll know how to engage them. However, never cross the line and go into extreme territory, or it could sink your brand.
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