Controversy In Copywriting – A Few Shocking Examples

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Controversy In Copywriting – A Few Shocking Examples

One of the goals of a copywriter is to attract the attention of the reader. Some attempt to do this with humour, or a clever turn of phrase, or by offering some exclusive special deal or amazing value.

Then there are the copywriters who try to elicit chills, gasps and looks of surprise or horror from their readers. They hope that their shocking and controversial words will help keep the product fresh in the reader’s mind.

Controversial copywriting is a double-edged sword.

  • On the one hand, it can really offend and alienate customers if it touches on a sensitive nerve.
  • On the other hand, a very clever and well written piece of controversial copywriting can spark discussion.

Copywriting that aims to shock or deals with touchy subjects will often cause outrage and might even get banned, which only makes the brand or the product more widely known. Even bad publicity is still good advertising.

Many companies like to avoid controversy, as they are afraid of scaring off their audience. Of course, this is what makes so much copywriting so tame, generic and well… boring. The best copywriter can find an imaginative balance between attracting attention and pushing the line without putting the company’s entire reputation in jeopardy.

Here are three examples of copywriting that has caused offensive or crossed the line to become controversial:

Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines, an airline in the USA, got into a lot of trouble with a 2010 advertisement that not-so-subtly referenced the terrible environmental disaster of the BP oil spill. The print ad featured an illustration of a woman on a beach slathered in suntan oil, inviting readers to “Check out the Oil on Our Beaches” and encouraging them to book holidays to Ft. Lauderdale. There was even a bottle of “Best Protection” (BP) sunscreen in the image.

This gutsy copywriting caused a lot of controversy, as it was seen as being insensitive to the enormous amount of ecological damage that was caused by the oil spill.

However, Spirit Airlines has an edgy and silly reputation; so many people thought that it fit well with the brand.

Loves Baby Soft

One very controversial example of copywriting was a 1970s print ad for Love’s Baby Soft perfume. The ad depicts a young female child with red pouting lips and a come-hither glare. She has angelic curls and is wearing a sweet white frilly nightshirt. She cuddles a white fluffy teddy bear.

The tagline says, “Love’s Baby Soft – Because innocence is sexier than you think.” The copy of the ad describes the ‘clean-baby smell’ that is ‘irresistible’ and ‘grown up enough to be sexy’.

With one look at this ad, you wonder how it ever got to print with its obvious paedophilic overtones.  A lot of people were outraged and quite sickened at this sexualized depiction of a child.

Fairy Soap

Sometimes advertisements that seem incredibly controversial and offensive in this day and age would not have been that shocking when they were created. For example, a print campaign for Fairy Soap in the 1860s showed a little blonde girl asking a little girl with black skin, “Why doesn’t your mamma wash you with fairy soap?”

Of course, the implication is that the black girl’s skin is dirty because of its colour.

This is an incredibly horrendous and racist advertisement, but at the time it was printed slavery was still legal and it was an accurate reflections of the attitudes of society (which is pretty sad to think).

These are just a few examples of controversy in copywriting, but there are so many out there. What are some of the most memorable shocking and controversial ads that you have come across? What did you think of them?

Category: Copywriting |



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