Controversy Creates Cash

Marketing clutter refers to the very high volume of advertising messages that the average consumer is exposed to on a daily basis. So, how do you get noticed in the crowded modern marketplace? Is controversy the only way to get attention?

Controversial advertising campaigns often generate a negative response from the general public, causing offence. Calvin Klein has been criticized for running campaigns with explicit sexual images, and even had to publicly apologize after the outrage caused by its campaigns, as did Benetton. 

Controversial advertisements which strike an offensive chord can result in a number of reactions like negative publicity, attracting complaints to advertising regulatory bodies, falling sales, and product boycotts. While advertisers have a social responsibility not to offend people by their advertising messages, in a free market they should be able to communicate a message to their customers in a way they want to. Therefore, advertisers wanting to undertake a controversial campaign must then tread the fine line between successfully communicating to the marketplace and offending some people.

As the amount of advertising increases, it would appear that there has been an increase in the amount of controversial advertising shown in various media. A recent ad released by Micromax, a homegrown Indian telecom company, has raised eyebrows and invited sneers of disgust.

In the Micromax ad, the Khmer Rouge genocide of Cambodia is in focus trivialising the lost lives of a quarter of the country’s population under tyrannical dictator Pol Pot. The TVC opens with soldiers assembling captives in a row to be fired. To capture the incident, a photographer is shown on the side. At the “shoot” command by the oriental looking army general, the bullets hit the captives and they fall on the ground. However, instead of dying, the soldiers are relieved to realize that the bullets were actually colour pellets. Have a look at the ad below.

Twitter has been abuzz with comments criticising this ad. Here are some examples about the negative publicity the ad is gaining on twitter.

‏@moonsez “The Micromax TV ad is simply horrible. I fail to see any humor in it.”

@smitaprakash#Micromax ad showing a public execution of about 10 people with ‘colourful’ blood splat is horrific & distasteful.”

@prabudeepan#Micromax seriously think a mass execution is the perfect plot for a phone ad? Why is the advertising world so insensitive?”

Micromax is no stranger to controversy. In 2011 it created an ad highlighting Shiney Ahuja’s rape case. The actor filed a case against Micromax and the company was forced to withdraw the ad. Have a look at the ad below.

Though controversial ads go grab attention, they walk a tight rope which could trip the product perception from controversial to the offensive. 

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