The Fine Line between Edgy and Offensive Advertising…And How to Avoid Crossing It

The Fine Line between Edgy and Offensive Advertising…And How to Avoid Crossing It

The Fine Line between Edgy and Offensive Advertising…And How to Avoid Crossing It

The Fine Line between Edgy and Offensive Advertising…And How to Avoid Crossing It

Since its inception, advertising has pushed boundaries in an effort to capture the attention of its audiences and generate interest in its message. Sometimes that works great. And sometimes it completely backfires.

The recent backlash to Pepsi’s commercial featuring Kylie Jenner is just one example of an edgy concept completely missing the mark. That got us at Schmoll Creative thinking: How do you deliver advertising that’s edgy, current, and interesting without being offensive and alienating some audiences? Here are our three strategies for success.

The Fine Line between Edgy and Offensive Advertising…And How to Avoid Crossing It

RULE #1: KNOW YOUR BRAND

Ashley Madison is an online dating site for married people. The brand’s tagline is “Life is Short. Have an Affair.” (These people actually have a trademark on that!)

Needless to say, Ashley Madison is selling an edgy product to an edgy audience. Guess what that means: edgy advertising works here. Does it mean everyone is going to like it? No. Does it mean no one will be offended by it? Certainly not.

But the shoe fits. So we let Ashley M. wear it.

The Fine Line between Edgy and Offensive Advertising…And How to Avoid Crossing It

RULE #2: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

The only thing stranger than this headline is the fact that this print ad was in Brides Magazine. If you’re unfamiliar, that’s a magazine read most often by women who are either engaged (and excited about getting married) or hoping to be engaged someday soon (and still excited about the prospect of getting married). This is NOT an audience that wants to be reminded how unlikely it is that their marriage will work.

Simon G. did not take his audience’s perspective into account in this message which is why this ad does not work…and definitely left many feeling offended. Had it been a headline for an attorney who does prenuptial agreements advertising in a newspaper, maaaybe we’d be more likely to let it slide.

The Fine Line between Edgy and Offensive Advertising…And How to Avoid Crossing It

RULE #3: DON’T MAKE LIGHT OF SERIOUS ISSUES

Perhaps the golden rule of edgy advertising is this: don’t exploit serious issues to sell products.

This billboard’s intentions are harmless. The underlying sentiment here is showering the women you love with jewelry is a good thing. However, in doing so, it’s making light of domestic violence or even worse, stoning women to death—both very serious issues.

This is similar to the mistake Pepsi made, downplaying the important messages of major recent protests (Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March on Washington, and the Dakota Pipeline stand-off) in an effort to sell more soda. It didn’t go over sell well.

All in all, if you have an edgy brand and an edgy audience and you stay away from exploiting serious issues, you can come up with advertising campaigns that deliver stopping power without alienating or offending.

And we’re always happy to help you do that.

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