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Dear marketers, your controversial stunts can do more harm than good

Posted September 25, 2013 by fran @ 1:14 pm

Earlier this month, outdoor marketing company Hornet Signs came under fire due to a controversial marketing stunt that it did.

It created a decal that showed a blonde woman curled up–seemingly unconscious–on the bed of a pickup truck. She was tied up and her hair was obscuring her face. The decal was then attached to the back of an actual pickup truck, creating the illusion that there was real woman lying there.

The tactic was meant to demonstrate the high quality of Hornet Signs decal and show how realistic its signs are.

The stunt was so believable that some individuals who saw it even called the police. Needless to say, the authorities weren’t pleased to be called because of some marketing stunt. They weren’t the only ones who were disgruntled though. A lot of people were outraged at Hornet Signs’ actions and after the story went viral, people from all over the world posted critical comments on the company’s Facebook page.

Hornet Signs was forced to take the decal down. Brad Kolb, owner of the company said to the press, “I wasn’t expecting the reactions we got, nor do we condone this by any means.” The businesses also announced that it donated $2,500 to the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children in Waco.

In spite of the bad press though, Kolb also said that the stunt resulted in a rise in decal orders.

The question is: Was the rise in orders worth the whole PR mess? We’d like to venture a guess that it wasn’t. Despite his claims that the company’s actions increased their decal orders, we’re guessing that if Hornet Signs were given a do-over, the company would demonstrate its realistic decals in other ways–you know, ways that didn’t involve abuse to women.

Let this serve as cautionary tale to marketers who are trying to garner more exposure for their products and services. Instead of resorting to being snarky, offensive, or controversial, why not try being creative and genuine instead? Use the wide range of online advertising formats out there to target your audience and deliver your message in a creative, tasteful, and fun way.

Because the fact is, snark and controversy aren’t just lazy tactics to get attention, they’re also second-rate, compared to genuine and wonderful content. Don’t believe us? Take Upworthy, as an example. The media company doesn’t resort to LOLcats or shady tactics to gain traffic. Instead, it focuses on curating meaningful content around relevant and serious issues such as immigration, politics, heath care, etc. The result? 20 million unique monthly visitors, 5 million subscribers, 3.2 million Facebook Likes and Z-E-R-O publicity mishaps. Oh, and did we mention that the company is just 18 months old?

Indeed, when you’re given the chance to choose between being shady or genuine, do yourself (and the rest of us) a favor and go with the latter. Because when it comes to getting more exposure, the challenge isn’t garnering attention–it’s doing it in an authentic and meaningful way. Choose to challenge yourself. The industry–heck the entire world–would be so much better off when marketers choose the honest route.

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