I wrote earlier about why Ad Age's Ken Wheaton was wrong in his article about "Selling Popcorn 101". That it would surprise to an Ad Age write is whats a mystery to me.
The ConAgra campaign follows the theme that has become so widely popular these days in marketing, "Create controversy to stay top of mind". In todays fragmented media world where to keep your message top of mind is a herculean task, trying to differentiate oneself is no longer enough. Marketers have to constantly strive for ways in which the brand can stay top of mind. And we have found a nice tool in "controversies" to meet that goal.
Marketers of consumer goods are not the early adopters to utilize this approach...the pioneers in this business are our entertainers. Whether it is Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" or Brittney Spears "show it all - getting off from the cab" episode, entertainers have realized that stirring up a controversy carefully can help shine the limelight on to their brand (and they don't really have to loose that much).
Janet and Brittney are hardly the first ones. I can remember the controversy stirred by Cher through her outfits in the eightees, and who can forget the Madonna in the ninetees! Both entertainers benefited a lot from the notoriety of their actions, and both went on to bigger fame, bigger fan bases and even bigger revenues.
But why do controversies work? Mainly because controversies help in aiding two things
1) Quickly allowing the brand to gain name recognition
2) Generate a discussion around the brand which helps in long term recall
Redenbacher popcorn has benefited from both and will continue to benefit from it until the hubbub dies down.
Brands have to be careful though. Not all controversy is good. For instance, controversy that is not in our control can hurt the brand significantly as can a a carefully launched controversy that goes out of control. An example of this was the controversy surrounding the finding of pesticides in cola drinks in India. Both Coca Cola and Pepsi are still reeling from that sales hit taken after the controversy, which started when an independent lab reported that they found small quantities of pesticides in reputed branded colas. Unfortunately for the big cola brands, this controversy was not something they could control and so they all lost.
Because Crispin Poter + Bogusky were involved in development of the Orville Redenbacher ad I have always believed that this was a planned publicity event, not just a fortuitous stroke of good luck. And today's Ad Age article by Stephanie Thompson confirms this. Sure there is some negative fall out - may be the uptight bloggers who brought this to our attention in the first place - won't eat this particular brand of popcorn. But others, oh, if there is one brand we will remember, it is Redenbacher. I believe this controversy will drive more sales, just the way it has driven impressions on the web. Then it will get diluted as some other insignificant controversy is brought to the fore by some bloggers, and Redenbacher will dissolve into the background.
This episode just goes to show that controversy can indeed be planned and planned in such a way that it can raise the brand awareness without causing much negative side effects. Get ready to see more of these kinds of stunts soon.