The saying, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” has been around since the invention of publicity itself (or maybe “time immemorial”?). But, is it a true statement? Can a company do whatever it wants and not suffer the consequences, simply because it garners the publicity the execs wanted in the first place?
Let’s take a look at a few recent controversial PR stunts.
A key brand at the center of the controversy – a company that clearly believes in the old adage about publicity – is Urban Outfitters. This company is no stranger to controversial marketing and PR. A couple of weeks ago, Urban released a tapestry reminiscent of the uniform Nazis forced gay prisoners to wear in concentration camps. This isn’t even Urban’s first foray into offensive Holocaust goods. In 2012, it released a yellow shirt – which the company claimed was a case of mistaken identity – that had a Jewish star placed on the left pocket. Other poor choices of the past include the infamous “blood-splattered” Kent State Shirt, pill-bottle shaped alcohol paraphernalia and “Ghettopoly.”
It seems as though Urban thinks it can’t get any publicity unless it’s doing something controversial – and the company certainly gets a ton of publicity, but is it worth it?
In November, Urban Outfitter’s store sales were down seven percent, while the company’s tamer siblings’ – Anthropologie and Free People – sales were up two percent and fifteen percent, respectively. The company’s shares were also down 17 percent in the same report. These numbers certainly aren’t supportive of the “all news is good news” mantra.
Another recent – though far less controversial – flub was by web giant GoDaddy. Who can forget the outrage last month when the company’s planned Super Bowl ad was released online? GoDaddy has seen its company grow with tasteless commercials using sex to sell its product (that’s a whole other story), but this time, it decided to deviate from the norm and use a cute puppy and humor to sell its product. What the company didn’t bank on was how vocal animal welfare advocates are and the hatred they have toward anything resembling a puppy mill.
The outrage caused the company to pull its ad and quickly throw together another one to take its $4 million Super Bowl place. The “Journey Home” puppy ad was talked about a lot, but did it get the reaction desired? The company’s CEO said it missed the mark and – though no results have been released – anecdotally, I saw quite a few social media comments from people who claimed they canceled their accounts. My guess is that in order for a company to toss out an ad they planned for the big game, it must have caused enough customers to cancel their accounts.
Possibly the original and most notable, though primarily unintentionally controversial marketing stunt, was the War of the Worlds broadcast. I don’t think I need to remind everyone what happened when CBS broadcast Orson Welles’ fictional drama in a realistic format. Just in case you don’t know – let’s just say mass hysteria (or at least as it was reported)! Even back then, these stunts were apt to backfire.
Here at Buchanan PR, we tell our clients: Unless you’re willing to stand by your decision 110% and risk losing customers over your stance, proceed with caution. That said, are these controversial stunts the genius of edgy marketing, PR and advertising teams, or are they the result of lacking creative teams? I’d love to hear your thoughts.