Controversial advertising in media has increased greatly these past decades. According to Waller (1999) the reason behind this increase is the complexity of society and the attempt of advertising agencies to 'cut through the clutter' with the purpose of getting more customers and brand awareness. Still, a controversial advertising campaign is a risky business. For every advertiser in the world, there is an existing risk of their advertisement becoming either extremely successful or catastrophic for the company.
As is the case for many companies worldwide, controversial advertisements often failed the main aim to promote their business. Instead, they were perceived as offensive. The aim of this research is to check why these advertisements received such feedback and what must be done to avoid such reactions.
The first example of this research paper is the Calvin Klein campaign. This person has been criticized for using explicit sexual images in the campaigns, but at first they worked. The fall of this campaign was reached when Klein had to apologize publically and stop the campaign that allegedly used child pornography images (New York Times). This, of course, has direction to negative publicity and therefore, falling sales and boycotts of product.
This leads to the fact that advertising companies must learn what and who may be offended by the campaigns, especially in cases of products that are controversial in nature. The example of Calvin Klein was not about an explicitly controversial product, but for jeans.
The risk is much higher for those advertising agencies that have to advertise feminine hygiene products, cigarettes, alcohol, condoms and other controversial products. Such products have been referred to as 'unmentionables' (Wilson and West 1981; 1995). In such cases, the job of an advertiser is to stick to their social responsibility of not offending people with controversial images.
According to Waller, there are 15 controversial products that range from slightly offensive to extremely offensive: weight loss programs, sexual diseases, religious denominations, racially extremist groups, pharmaceuticals, political parties, male underwear, gambling, funeral services, female underwear, hygiene products, female contraceptives, condoms, cigarettes and alcohol. The reasons for offence have also been set in categories: anti-social behavior, subject too personal, sexist, racist, nudity and indecent language. This answers the question to what people find offensive when it comes to advertising.
As for the question of who is offended, Waller discovered that females are generally more often offended from such campaigns than men. Additionally, Fahy, Smart, Pride and Ferrell (1995) have concluded that women aged 50 or more are those who most often find alcoholic beverages, health/sex related products and products for children to be controversial.
Aside from the many negative responses for such campaigns, advertisers keep on using controversial images in their campaigns. The reason behind this happening is that such use has been extremely successful for plenty of organizations in the past.
The people who work with controversial campaigns or any type of advertising campaign must become more aware of what offends the public. Even though campaigns that are controversial in some sense often gain more publicity and achieve success than those who do not 'stick out', advertiser must make sure that the campaign is not sexist, racist or presenting violent images. The main group at risk of feeling offended by such campaigns is the female market.Conclusion
When the public is offended from advertising, the company risks a drop in sales and even product boycotting. This in term, can reflect poorly on both the company that sells the brand and the agency that did the campaign. Therefore, the conclusion of this research paper would be that advertisements simply must refrain from nudity, sexist images, personal talk of the product and indecent language, regardless of the nature of product being sold. The last thing any company or advertising agency would want is for their campaign to result in complete failure due to negligence of the customers' feelings.