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The Relevance of Controversy

Recently on Channel 7’s Sunrise program we discussed the latest round of the most complained about TV commercials. The segment discusses commercials that got banned, Sportsbet and iSelect, to the Itune commercials that always seem to push the boundaries, but had their complaints dismissed.

Once again it raises the question, is the controversy an effective tactic for a brand. It all comes down to relevance. While the controversy may achieve increased exposure (shares, clicks etc), does it impact the brand positively or negatively?

Despite being banned, the sportsbet ads are spot on with their demographic, as opposed to the iSelect commercial which perhaps had the sentiment right but the execution could be damaging for the brand.

Check out the segment here, transcript below.

Monique Wright: So Australians are bombarded with television ads every day, it's how we pay the bills, but some can rub us the wrong way.

Matt Moran: They certainly can, so far this year there have been a record number of complaints against several now infamous commercials. This Sportsbet manscaping commercial is the most protested ad so far this year with 793 complaints. 

Sportsbet Ad: Oi Romeo. Bet on NRL this week with Sportsbet-

Matt Moran: The ad was banned. This iSelect ad came in second with 715 complaints. 

iSelect Ad: Know that feeling you get when you have been hit with another yearly health insurance rate rise? There is still time. Call us before prices rise on April one and we will find the right health cover for you. 

Matt Moran: Both the Sportsbet and iSelect ads are the most complained about commercials in the history of Ad Standards. 

Ultratune 1: (Singing) Tiger. 

Ultratune 2: No, I'm a kitty cat silly. 

Ultratune 1: No, Tiger. 

Matt Moran: Ultra Tune came in third and features Mike Tyson coming to the rescue of three women who've run of the road. 

Mike Tyson: Have you ladies seen Francis? You know, my tiger. King of the jungle. 

Matt Moran: Despite the ad being cleared by the watchdog, it managed 134 complaints. 

Monique Wright: Joining us now is advertising expert Matthew Bywater. Matt, morning. Welcome. Some of it looked, I suspect you advertising people sort of push the envelope a bit. Some people know they're playing with fire. You don't rent, you don't pay for Mike Tyson to be in a commercial and expect it not to be a bit controversial. 

Matthew Bywater: Yeah, that's correct. If you want to get value, you are going to spend the money, you want to get value out of it. These days it's not hard to push the envelope too far. I mean, we see these complaints, the Mike Tyson one in particular was actually was dismissed so Ultra Tune can still run their commercial, but we're talking less than 200 complaints. So it's not a lot of people considering the airing it gets. 

Matt Moran: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Matthew Bywater: So even though Ultra Tune do this deliberately, I mean in the last 20 years they've got two of the top 10 most complained about ads. This is what they're trying to do, and they try to find something new all the time that push that envelope to get more traction. 

Monique Wright: Because you get more attention. 

Matthew Bywater: You get more attention. 

Matt Moran: That's the scene. 

Matthew Bywater: Yeah. So, as an... Normally an agency, you've spent so much money on the creating and then they need to spend so much money on the media. And where they can save money on the media if they get enough people complaining about it then they hit the free media. 

Matt Moran: Well, is it the case during those challenging meetings sometimes as the ad execs sit around thinking, right, what if, if this is so controversial it gets banned as these have then we talk about it, it gets written about in the papers, so what's that worth?

Matthew Bywater: Yeah, that's worth tens and tens of thousands of dollars. Because they're saving on the media spec. Now, I should point out, it has to still have to fit with what the brand image is. Because a lot of brands you wouldn't want to do this deliberately because it will tarnish your brand in a negative way. But certainly there is a lot of free media to be had by getting by getting this sort of protagonistic approach in getting people to spread it and share it and get a little bit of outrage and other people saying I don't think it's so bad. So, it gets the conversation going. 

Monique Wright: And like this Sportsbet one that we've been running all morning with the bloke shaving and -

Matthew Bywater: The manscaping, yeah. 

Monique Wright: Manscaping and slipping. I mean, you know, know your audience. That's sort of aimed Sportsbet- 

Matthew Bywater: That's spot on- 

Monique Wright: Will get complaints. But mostly men, youngish men I imagine, who will gag at it and probably meet with Sportsbet, but you know, like it's, it's aimed at the demographic so should we all be offended by this all the time?

Matthew Bywater: Yeah, it's spot on with the demographic. Then there is no harm, even though the ban on the commercials actually been upheld so they actually had to stop that commercial. We're talking almost 800 complaints. So-

Monique Wright: Is that a lot?

Matthew Bywater: It is. It's not...