Skip to main content

Can controversy boost your brand? In many cases, the surprising answer is ‘yes’. While few people think of controversy as being a positive thing, it can lead to free media exposure and stronger brand loyalty.

A good example of this principle is the controversial ad campaign used by the well-known animal advocacy group PETA.

What started this latest PETA controversy might be considered a marketing and branding disaster in most companies. A Canadian ad campaign was designed, executed, and perfected.

Celebrity endorsement was arranged and advertisement spots on television and in print were purchased. Then, at the last minute, the advertisement was banned by government officials.

However, this has been more of a boon for PETA than a catastrophe.

There are a few reasons that some companies, such as PETA, seem to thrive on controversy. First, the brand must be based on a controversial subject or product.

PETA meets this qualification because they advocate more extreme action than most animal lovers would sanction, for instance referring to pet ownership as ‘animal slavery’ and recommending a completely vegan lifestyle.

Few people would give up their beloved pets and stop using all animal products in an attempt to give animals a better life, but those who would support PETA without reservation.

Second, the brand must create controversy that is interesting enough to capture media attention. In this case, a popular Canadian actress, Pamela Anderson, was involved in the campaign and pictured in a skimpy bikini.

Many people are interested in seeing this ad, enough that both traditional news outlets and internet sites will give coverage to the ban and possibly get the ad more exposure than a normal print advertising campaign might afford.

Third, the controversy must be carefully managed to be beneficial to the brand. Even PETA has found itself in unpleasant controversies, such as when a high-level executive was reported to use diabetes supplies that are manufactured using laboratory animals.

The controversy must support a brand’s values rather than detract from them in order to build loyalty. Otherwise, the incident may have the exact opposite of the intended effect.

PETA is no stranger to controversy and thus was prepared to use this scandal to maximum advantage. The moment the ads were banned, a series of press releases and social media updates were released.

Because they have established a considerable brand presence on the internet, it was easy to get the word out quickly, rallying supporters. In many cases, controversial ads are never intended to be aired; instead, they are created for the publicity that a ban will garner.

It seems likely that this is one of those occasions.

If you think that controversy can become a positive part of your brand image, keep in mind that expert help is necessary. Only someone experienced in branding can help you create the type of controversy that will build your brand rather than tear it down.

Talk to a logo designer today to find out whether this is a good branding and marketing strategy for your own business.

Mash Bonigala

Mash B. is the Founder & Creative Director of Logo Design Works. Since 1998, Mash has helped thousands of businesses express their brand messages through creative and award winning logo designs.