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According to recommendations from a panel of marketing experts, if companies want their communications to resonate and stick with modern customers, they need to run the risk of angering or alienating them too. When marketing campaigns are just regular, “up the middle,” or boring, they have little chance of prompting the sorts of behaviors advertisers seek, whether that means getting people to talk or actual sales.

Instead, the goal needs to be to spark interest in the campaign, which then will spark interest in the product or service. Interest might result from an unusual or unexpected presentation, or even a seemingly conventional approach with just a little difference. A key example comes from Honey Maid crackers, which ran a traditional advertising campaign that featured families to communicate a message of wholesomeness. What made the campaign different was the type of families being featured, who included gay parents, single parents, and a multiracial family. For many viewers, the difference was appealing; for those who objected, Honey Maid transformed their often hateful comments into an art piece it could use to further its brand image as wholesome and welcoming.

Rather than challenging biases, other examples are just a little weird, such as a General Electric campaign to introduce an innovation it developed with the social network Quirty, in which an executive gives a foot massage to the inventor of their newly introduced Aros air conditioners. Then there are the fake infomercials directed by the comedy duo behind Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories, which feature the famously distinctive actor Jeff Goldblum, hawking GE’s new Link LED light bulbs.

Retro Game ShowWeird does not work for everybody, but according to these marketing experts, everybody needs to try it. If a marketing communication is not interesting enough to get consumers talking about it, warns one expert, then it is not interesting enough to run.

Source: Stuart Elliot, “Marketers Are Urged to Become Fearless,” The New York Times, September 30, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com

Discussion Question

To what extent should marketers take these recommendations to heart? That is, should all marketing be controversial in some way?

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