5 Controversial (Yet Powerful) Marketing Campaigns

In marketing, you need to try various campaigns and strategies to get noticed. Controversy in one such way which is why some businesses purposely look for new ways to create a buzz.


If you want to stand out and attract attention, you can’t always play it safe. Unique, offbeat, and edgy campaigns create an experience that others will want to see what’s that about and share.

But, controversy has its own risks. If you want to create the right kind of splash, the kind that gets viewers excited about your products, you need to know your limits. Yes, it is worth taking the risk if you strongly believe in your idea.

If it is successful, one such campaign can improve your reputation and take your brand to the next level.

If interested in creating a controversial campaign, here are five campaigns to inspire you.

1. Gillette’s “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be”

Do you remember the Gillette’s ad “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” has nothing to do with razors, shaving or beards. Instead, the add challenged stereotypes and destructive masculinity.

Are you wondering what happens when an international company decides to join #MeToo movement and promote positive masculinity?

The campaign raised a lot of attention and immediately went viral. With more than 31 million views. People seem to either love it or hate it, however, the point is that it let to customer engagement and massive media coverage.

The concept behind the ad showed that it had the power to appeal to a wider market, including both men and women. It was also effective at targeting millennials who tend to appreciate brands that focus on social responsibility and incorporate it into their overall brand image.

2. Airbnb’s #WeAccept

Inspired by a Syrian refugee crisis, one of the most popular online marketplaces in US and hospitality service provider – Airbnb decided to create a campaign based on standing strong, taking a stand, and sending a message of love and acceptance.

The ad shows a few different faces of various nationalities blending into one another. There is also a text that says “We believe no matter who you are, where you are from, who you love or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept”.

This add showed Airbnb’s commitment to offering short-term accommodation for people in need such as aid workers, victims of natural disasters, refugees, and more.

The ad received negative comments on social media, but what’s important is the end result which was quite positive.

During the first half of the Super Bowl, the add was mentioned more than 30.000 times on Twitter which is more than any other ad and the majority of tweets were positive.

From Airbnb’s internal analysis we’ve discovered that the reactions to the campaign were 85% positive.

The call to the public to share their homes for people in need resulted in more than 15.000 host signups.

3. Nike’s “Believe in Something”

When it comes to controversial ads, there doesn’t exist more controversial ad than Nike’s ad featuring ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

As soon as the ad was released, it thrust Nike into the arms of controversy. It was bad because there was already controversy smoldering around Colin, a quarterback who inspired the player to protect the movement by standing down on his knees during the national anthem. Yes, it was a strategy that risked separating customers from all over the world.

However, it doesn’t matter whether you believe it was good or in bad taste, the campaign proved to be successful. Gen Z and Millennial customers loved it. The campaign generated over $43 million in free advertising and the sales for Nike skyrocketed by 30% and its stock price jumped immediately.

4. Equinox’s “Commit to Something”

The popular lifestyle brand – Equinox motivated people to “Commit to Something” in their ad serious that discussed cultural issues and supported people to change their current lifestyle.

There were timely topics suggested as part of the campaign. The topics aroused cultural conversation.

One picture, for example, features a model breastfeeding two babies in a public restaurant. Another picture features a woman protesting and standing up for her rights, another one features a man who sits on his couch as he batches in money.

We must admit, the campaign is edgy, sexy, and unique. It is also thought-provoking, and yes, controversial.

While some people have found this campaign unpleasant, it certainly achieved its purpose – to increase sales and media attention.

The company achieved over 735 million media impressions (earned impressions) which is equivalent to $70 million spent. Also, Equinox saw an 80% increase in sales.

5. Burger King’s “Whopper Neutrality”

Burger King, one of the most popular fast-food chains known for its delicious burgers got involved in a complicated topic – net neutrality and with a great purpose.

Through a commercial based on customers that need to pay a premium for their food if they wanted to get their meals quickly, employees explained the new rules to confused customers and angry guests by calling it Whopper Neutrality.

The campaign not only explained a confusing topic but it also helped people understand why regulations related to net neutrality have a negative impact. It seems to have paid off.

Let’s take a look at the numbers.

While the average video of Burger King on YouTube gets 280.000 views, this one got more than 4.6 million views. Also, it got 120.000 likes vs 10.000 dislikes which is a very positive ration.


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