The success or failure of any product in any business hinges on the foundation of marketing. You can have the best commodity ever; however, if you do not get that product out there so that people can be aware of it, then its future is doomed. On the other hand, whatever the product is—good or bad, controversial, or uncontroversial—if you tell its story right, then you can sell it. However, if you tell its story wrong, you best be sure that it will not sell, all things being equal.
What could we deem as controversial products or services? First, they could be products or services that are discriminatory against protected classes (e.g., race, gender, religion, etc.). Second, it could be products that encourage or support harmful or dangerous practices (e.g., hate-baiting, racial profiling, etc.). Third, potentially hazardous products (e.g., cigarettes, alcohol, etc.). Yes, some products shouldn’t be on the market, but they are. The companies producing or offering them are successful in marketing and selling them. What’s their trick? What’s their strategy?
“Great marketing goes beyond creativity; it interacts with the human needs.” — Anonymous.
Marketing a controversial product without full knowledge of what it entails is like putting your fingers in hot water to get burnt. You don’t have to feel the heat if you apply the right strategies to selling that controversial product to your target market. A particular approach is needed to succeed at getting a lot of “yesses” from your target market. Before you can win the heart of your target market, first do a lot of groundwork that helps you to come up with the right strategies.
5 Strategies to Market a Controversial Product
Taking to market and advertising a highly sought-after product is a challenge on its own. First, it requires effort, dedication, and a creative approach to creating a strategy that gets that product in front of the customers. Then, it requires innovation to get them to buy that product or even service, then as it may. However, it goes, these organizations are making it work, and we can learn a thing or two from them.
“Young people are a vulnerable group, susceptible to the precise marketing of e-cigarette companies, peer pressure, and curiosity. Young vape addicts need to be viewed as people with just that—an addiction.” — The Michigan Daily Editorial Board.
How much more a controversial product or service? These products or services may not receive a standing ovation from regulators or consumers alike? However, with the right story and strategy, these organizations can make it sell. Are you about to create a controversial product or service but don’t know how to go about making sales without your fingers getting burnt? Read on to gain some insights.
#1. Do Your Own Research (DYOR)
Let’s face it. It’s not easy marketing a controversial product. It’s ten times harder getting people to buy something they aren’t sure of, or that goes against their moral standards. But, if you are confident that your product has some value yet controversial, then don’t give up. Instead, get started by doing some market research.
Over the years, cigarette and alcohol companies have penetrated the market and had their share of mega-profits by being smart. How were they successful? They did their research, understood their target audience and what makes them tick. By so doing, they advertise their products to their niche while still warning them about the dangers of their product.
To go to war, you have got to be super prepared. You must get to know your audience thoroughly and the best ways to capture their attention and make them interested in buying from you. Not researching your target market increases the chance that the odds will not be in your favor. You do not want your target audience shooting down your product when it goes to market.
#2. Understand Your Limits
You have done market research on your industry and your target audience, but it does not stop there. You must now investigate whether specific rules and restrictions with marketing or selling your controversial product are within your target niche’s location. Every state or country has certain limitations with regards to running some specific kind of business. Find out what the regulations are and know your limit, and adhere to these restrictions.
The restrictions that you may encounter may not just apply to the traditional aspects of marketing your business. It could apply to the digital elements as well. For example, there are certain restrictions to the controversial marketing of products online, especially on Facebook. You can read about online marketing policies to know your limit when marketing your product or services on different digital platforms. Knowing your limits allows you to fine-tune your product marketing according to the on-ground policies of the medium where the marketing will take place.
“Smokers are liable to die young,” but a lot of young people smoke, and cigarette companies keep cashing out. You see that slogan right there—may cigarette companies have it as a by-line in their advertising campaigns. It’s a creative marketing move that shows that—yes, we understand that smoking isn’t good, but we are giving you a choice to either smoke or don’t because your buying power is in your hands. This psychological trick tends to educate as well.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” — Nelson Mandela.
Educating the masses on your controversial brand is another strategy that you can use in marketing or advertising. For example, the United States Surgeon General Warning, which is part of the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965 (Public Law 89–92), requires cigarette companies to inscribe a warning on one side panel of each cigarette package. (NB. You can see this on the Center of Disease Control (CDC) website).
What an irony—rather than outrightly banning the pernicious and controvertible products, these cigarette companies instruct the masses of the dangers of their products but still allow the sales to go on. They, therefore, absolve themselves of the consequences of use by the end-users. However, they also profit from more sales due to the addictive nature of their products. The concept is a clear example of the role of education as a powerful and psychological strategy and tool in selling a controversial product.
You would be better off accepting that some people will be angry or offended that your business exists, and you can’t change that. However, you must also be careful not to cross certain boundaries when advertising. Else you may damage the image of your brand. Hence, as you educate the masses about your controversial product, you must stay abreast with the statutes of limitations that draw the lines that you should not cross. It will also be beneficial if you learn from the feedback coming from your consumers.
The best way to capture people’s attention is to educate them, especially on the values your product brings, so they are more open-minded. The approach you use in marketing your product is something you should put into consideration. Be less offensive when educating your target audience. Let them know why they need your product but also respect their opinions about your brand. Sometimes the views you get might help improve your product offering. When educating your target audience using different marketing platforms, do not forget to add value in the process.
“If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.” — Howard Schultz.
The famous condom brand, Durex, provides a case study of how to market controversial products. Durex wins over the heart of their target audience by the marketing content they put out there. They educate young people from abstinence but can’t control their urge to have sex, and as such, if they want to go ahead with sex, they should go about it safely with condoms. They also educate their target audience on the consequences of having unsafe sex and why they should always have condoms to protect their future. You can agree with me that educative content like this does not come off as offensive. Instead, the value these give helps is boosting more sales for the company.
#4. Get Creative
If you anticipate selling a controversial product, whatever the merchandise or service may be, you need to set the right tone. Adding humor to your content marketing alone does not cut it. There is more work to be done. One little statement or word could mess up your marketing and likely destroy your brand. So, instead, let your tone be more relaxing and playful so your target audience can be at ease when they come across your ad campaign.
“People spend money when and where they feel good.” — Walt Disney.
Another way to get creative is to market a lifestyle and not just the product. What fabulous lifestyle can people relate to when they come across your brand? Lifestyle marketing removes the barriers to selling controversial products. For your product to stick out, you need to have robust messaging and take control of your brand. Be sure to have a compelling story to back up your brand.
When marketing, make your product more appealing because if you offend everyone with your marketing copies, there is no way you can make profits. In being appealing, ensure your visuals are entertaining and leave a lasting impression on the minds of your target audience. That will put you on the right track to successfully selling your controversial product or service.
#5. Go the Extra Mile
Don’t just market; build relationships that will result in growing a good number of loyal customers. Get in touch with customers and appreciate every referral gotten. Don’t just market your product like every other business or brand out there. Build relationships and give every customer a unique experience with your brand that eventually builds trust. Your satisfied customers will eventually turn into loyal brand evangelists no matter how controversial your product is. When sales start buzzing in, do not kill the value you’ve been offering: more value, more growth.
Go the extra mile in your attempt to market your product, brand, or service. When you are building a brand, go the extra mile to research and strategize. Don’t be satisfied with the status quo. Don’t settle for the standard ways of marketing and advertising your product, service, or brand. Be creative in your process. Develop S.M.A.R.T. (i.e., Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) marketing plans to develop a selling strategy for your product. Go the extra mile-don’t give up.
So far, we have seen several strategies that can help us market a controversial product. First, you must Do Your Own Research (DYOR). It would be best if you did your due diligence in doing thorough market research for your product. Second, understand your limits. It will save you valuable time in your process. Third, educate your customers about your controversial product, and don’t forget to learn about the statutes of limitation concerning your controversial product. Fourth, be creative with your marketing. Don’t take a dull approach. Fifth, don’t settle for the status quo—go the extra mile.
“It’s not what you sell that matters as much as how you sell it!” — Brian Halligan, CEO & Co-Founder, HubSpot.
Marketing a controversial product can be easy peasy if you’re patient enough to take the proper steps. Taking the right steps here means doing your market research, understanding your limits, educating your target audience, getting creative, and going the extra mile. The market will be tough on your product or service at first, but it goes smoothly within a short period if you do it right.