Banning ads is a planned public relations and advertising strategy


Various advertisements are designed to be banned so that the resulting earned media will gain more attention than if they were shown without the ban.

The recent TV commercial of the Christmas orangutan in Iceland is the latest in a series of ads banned in the UK. The ad was originally created by Greenpeace and selected by Iceland because they knew it would be banned because it was considered “political”. This is a common technique in public relations and advertising called “controversial marketing”.

The goal is to cause a scandal in the press that generates public interest in the campaign, then an online petition magically appears on social media to share the story, and it goes viral. The advantage for the company is not to spend money to buy media space, and to ensure that the press and the public effectively become the broadcasters by sharing the ad on social networks and in the media. news. This saves Iceland hundreds of thousands if not millions of pounds by buying airtime on media channels. In the case of Iceland, the ad has been viewed millions of times although it has never been shown once on television.

Another example emerged this summer: the Beyond Life funeral advertisements which were banned by TFL (Transport For London) because the bold copy promised “roasting temperatures” for a “low cost cremation” service. The ads were then toned down, but not before the original “offensive” versions were shared on Twitter by the company and mentioned on various news platforms for more than three days, allowing the brand to run its campaign for free.

Some advertisements are deliberately designed to shock, and this technique is called “Shockvertising”. An extreme example is the 2016 PETA Vegan vs Meat eater commercial which was submitted for airing on America’s most-watched TV show, SuperBowl, seen by over 90 million Americans on a Sunday afternoon. The ad featured a side-by-side comparison of two couples having passionate sex. One man is a meat eater and the other a vegan. The meat eater loses his erection and later dies, while the vegan continues to satisfy his consenting partner through various multiple orgasms. The ad was banned and PETA immediately broke the news to the press., causing more than 1.1 million views on YouTube in just three days. Without spending a single dime on media and sparing PETA the cost of purchasing 30 seconds of Superbowl airtime, or more than $ 3 million, their message was received internationally.

In Mexico, the shock ad was used for a two-minute online ad for a vinyl toy from a company called Alimana. A trade magazine said that the Ursula and Spore 2.3 ad was so violent that it was an “ad imploring an NC-17 rating” (for under-17s only) because it features some of the most deadly death sequences. more “shocking and bizarre”. each filmed. YouTube banned the ad after reaching more than 100,000 views, but the product was already sold out.

Another explanation for how shock advertising appears in the media is that advertising companies often run advertisements without the client’s permission, which is called “scam ads” or “truchos”. This is how agencies can showcase their advertising product in creative award shows. Often, these contests have entry rules that state that ads must be shown at least once in order to be entered into the contest. Advertising agency JWT caused a global uproar for its client Ford India by suggesting that the new Figo car had so much room it could fit at least three nearly naked Kardashians in the trunk. It was free publicity that Ford didn’t want to have.

As brands make it harder to reach their target audiences and media costs rise, clients and their PR and advertising agencies are forced to find cheaper techniques to get their message across. The use of “controversial marketing” and “shock advertising” has grown in popularity.

The authorities banning ads were designed to prevent the public from seeing the ad, but in today’s multi-channel digital environment, these rules have the opposite effect.

Carl Jones is Senior Lecturer in Public Relations and Advertising at the University of Westminster



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