Is courting controversy a good marketing ploy?

Is courting controversy a good marketing ploy?

There are a number of ways to get a product or a hospitality venue talked about, but is controversy a good way to go about it?

Oscar Wilde once famously said that the only thing worse than people talking about you is people not talking about you, but what if what they are saying is negative? Take for example, the latest piece of controversy to hit the beer and pub world - that of a pump clip bearing the image of the Kray twins and the name of the beer, Dark Conspiracy. Yes, Ramsgate Brewery has been forced to remove the image by the Independent Complaints Panel (ICP), yet people are still talking about it - more so in fact than if the pump clip had remained.

Henry Ashworth, chief executive of the Portman Group with administrative duties to the ICP, said: "There is a tough self-regulatory code in the UK which stops alcohol being marketed through association with violent or aggressive behaviour." Ramsgate acted quickly to co-operate with the ruling, but defended itself in saying that it thought the image reflected the origins of the beer. Companies need to be seen to be following the rules and reacting to them, but it has turned into a good publicity stunt. The actions of the Kray twins are still relatively recent and it is possible that people could be offended by the image, so the brewery did run the risk of offending potential customers.

Whether or not controversy works for a business depends on the image that it is trying to portray and which demographic of customers the product is aimed at. Some places use controversy to good effect and there are some breweries in particular that are anti-establishment and may therefore find that controversial marketing ploys work well. Others may wish to stay on the good side of the rules and target a more conservative audience - but either way, a decision should be made, so as perceived slip-ups are carefully tailored and not costly to business.

Mr Ashworth said: "Original and innovative marketing is a world-class British export and should not be stifled by regulation, but the alcohol industry must show, through a strict set of regulations, that it can market its products responsibly. "Producers must exercise careful judgement in this area."
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