Controversial Advertising: Stupid or Strategic?

Have you ever seen an ad and thought “who thought that was a good idea?!” And no, I don’t mean those corny ads like something you’d see on The Apprentice. I mean those ones that make you think “who approved that?” or “umm why?”

I’ve always thought the whole “all press is good press” notion was a bit, well, stupid really. I mean, I never really saw how negative publicity and consumer backlash could be a good thing for a business?

 

 

Well, today I saw this NHS ad campaign for breastfeeding on my LinkedIn feed. The only reason that I saw this ad was because a connection of mine shared it and expressed their outrage at the nature of the ad. Then I realised that I probably never would have seen the ad if it wasn’t for them sharing it. I mean, I don’t exactly strive to keep up to date on the goings on of the parenting and baby world (well not yet anyway).

This got me thinking though, what if Eminem was right? *gasps in background* What if we do need a little controversy? These ‘controversial’ ads do get people talking and raise awareness about the brand/product after all. So what if all press really is good press?

 

  • To clarify, I’m not saying “let’s go out and offend everyone in the name of free publicity” (or, “let’s listen to Eminem” – I’m definitely not saying that). I’m simply saying that maybe there is method in the madness. And I’m not talking about ads that violate the principles of the ASA and have to be taken down either.

 

Marketing and advertising teams depend on people talking about products, companies, shows- whatever they’re trying to promote; and what better way to get people talking than to start a good old fashioned debate?

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Take the latest Cancer Research campaign – informing consumers of the link between obesity and cancer. Many people complained, stating that it ‘fat shamed’ individuals and lowered their self-esteem.

This sparked an online debate, with people vouching for both sides, which led to the ad being shared and talked about all over social media.

Think of how many people have now seen the ad. So, think of how people are now aware that obesity contributes to the development of cancer. Do you think an ad showing a microscope and cell would have had the same effect?

Whether or not they agree with the ad is irrelevant; these people still shared the ad with hundreds of people. What is relevant, however, is that the aim of the ad was to educate and inform consumers. Which it has.

Those who were so opposed to the ad, were the ones who actually promoted the campaign. Doing Cancer Research a favour. I mean, if you hate the ad so much, why are you giving the company free advertising space on your social media platforms?

Cancer Research essentially got free advertising and discussion about not only their organisation, but the message they were trying to spread.

 

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In a similar way, Netflix’s show Insatiable got slated online with a large amount of viewers complaining about it. I had never heard of the show, but decided to watch it to ‘see what the fuss was about’; I ended up watching the whole series. If the show hadn’t been featured on the likes of Buzzfeed and social media, I probably would never even have heard of it, let alone watched it.

What people don’t seem to realise is that “hate watching” is still watching. Do you think a series which follows the social norms and is 100% politically correct would have been renewed for a second series? Doubt it.

 

Let’s be real, we’re all (I hope it’s not just me) guilty of being attracted to a wee bit of scandal and  the chance to give our opinions *has flashbacks to whether the dress was white and gold or blue and black* and companies know this – they have to get us talking after all.

(it was white and gold btw- just saying)

 

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EPSON scanner image

Advertisers love pushing boundaries. They have to think outside that clichéd box and come up with new and imaginative ideas for campaigns. If they didn’t push the boundaries, people wouldn’t react; and the whole point of advertising is to get a reaction from consumers. Yes, ideally you want consumers to actually like you, but, it’s a gamble that I guess can pay off. I somehow doubt that Cancer Research will have a tough time weighing up the cons of a few angry people vs the pros of raising awareness and saving lives.

The thing to note is the status of the company being controversial – the NHS can afford to be because, whether or not people agree with the ad, they’re most likely still going to avail of the NHS’s services. I doubt people would rather fork out a few grand for private healthcare than get it for free from a health provider that ran a questionable breastfeeding campaign.

Similarly, do you think consumers are going to ‘boycott’ a cancer research charity because they don’t like their ad? Don’t think so. So, whilst being controversial can be a good thing, it’s important for advertisers to think of the potential consequences of annoying consumers.

Advertisers also need to be aware of the fine line separating ‘controversial’ and just downright offensive. The last thing you want is for the ASA to be on your back, or having to withdraw a campaign you spent a hell of a lot of money on.

 

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Photo by Moose Photos on Pexels.com

So, next time you see an ad and think “what the hell were they thinking?!” Maybe now you know.

Or, maybe they’re not the strategic marketing geniuses we thought they were and it really is just be a poorly thought out ad. Who knows?

 

Niamh Murray is a 3rd year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University, currently on a placement year at The Irish News. She can be found on Instagram: @_neeev, Facebook: Niamh Ni Mhuirí and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/niamh-murray-4a013a150/

PR in the NHS

At a time when the five Health Trusts in Northern Ireland need to make combined savings of up to £70 million in their health care budgets, it is understandable that people question where the NHS money is spent. A common debate is the NHS’ spending on Public Relations.

PR is usually one of the areas that is attacked when it comes to NHS expenditure. For example, Jonathan Isaby, CEO of the Taxpayers Alliance stated in 2014, “Taxpayers expect the health budget to be spent on real doctors, not spin doctors.”

CIPR were quick to defend the role of Healthcare Communicators believing their role involves “Life changing and lifesaving work.” The NHS needs to engage with the public and tackle healthcare issues. This cannot be done without professional PR support, PR is not just about ‘spin’.

From my placement year, working as a Communications Intern in the South Eastern Trust, I learnt the importance of PR in the NHS and witnessed first-hand the misconceptions associated with working in PR.

For example, when I was seen attending events taking photographs or filming, people often said, “Your job seems so fun and easy taking photos and using Facebook.”

However, people do not realise the amount of time and effort put behind photographs: arranging large and often reluctant groups of people for a group photograph, gathering accurate information to accompany the photo in a press release, editing on Photoshop when necessary. Also, the time taken to film and direct original footage along with editing and gaining approval from the organiser before anything is released. There is a lot more effort, time and skill needed behind the scenes!

Below is a summary of what a NHS Press Officer Role entails, proving PR is not just about ‘spin’:

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Without Public relations staff in the NHS the following questions may arise:

1. Who would update the public on important issues?

Who is going to inform the public about the pressures on the Emergency Department this winter? If people are not aware of their own minor injuries unit open times or the self-help resources to use at home, they are most likely to visit busy A&E Departments and increase the pressure on staff.

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2. Who is going to recognise and promote staff’s achievements?

The NHS employs approximately 64,000 staff in Northern Ireland. Press Officers in the NHS source and publish good news stories on the fantastic work staff do. Recognising staff achievements creates a high moral and sense of appreciation among staff, which leads to a more passionate workforce who want to strive to work to these standards.

The PR team in the NHS also share patient’s positive experiences that may have otherwise not been printed by journalists who usually favour bad news stories that get more hits. Highlighting a patient’s positive experience can boost the Trusts reputation.

3. Who would keep employees and the public up to date on events and important information?

PR professionals in the NHS inform the public and staff of innovations within the trust through various communication channels. Without a PR, who would inform the local population of key decisions within the Trusts, such as the recent cost saving proposals?

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PR is also used to promote important health awareness campaigns such as cancer and stop smoking campaigns, raising awareness of signs and symptoms and the help available in the local area which can be lifesaving.

4. Who would manage Reputation?

Public Relations is all about managing reputation– protecting, maintaining, building and managing reputation.

A strong reputation is important for the NHS, considering the amount of bad publicity it usually receives. If the NHS did not hire PR professionals who would handle the 24-hour demand for news and answer the medias queries promptly and correctly? Certainly not front line staff would not have the time or experience to do this. PR professionals in the NHS help shield staff and patient’s identity from the media and some cases stop unethical stories being printed- helping to avoid a crisis.

It is especially important that the NHS has a good reputation as this attracts the right staff and builds good moral amongst the people that work there.

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As Bill Gates famously said, “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations.” This emphasises that even if money is low, it is crucial to keep investing in PR to ensure a large organisation such as the NHS is run effectively.

There are endless reasons why PR is central to achieving effective healthcare. The NHS needs the resources, both internal and external, to enable this.

So, is PR in the NHS a waste of money? Definitely not.

Elizabeth Owens is a final year BSc Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on Twitter @eowens12_ or LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabethowens32/ 

A Bloody Easy Donation

When Lent rolled around this year I sat and thought about what I was going to go off. Snacks? Alcohol? (Unlikely) Am I too old to go off being mean to siblings? Instead of going on a 40 day diet I decided I was going to do some of the good deeds I promise myself I’ll get round to but usually forget about – one being donating blood.

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I’d never given blood before but my brother told me he used to drop into the Belfast City Hospital when he was at university and donate there. I started to Google where exactly it was and what times it was open so that I could organise going around my class timetable. Little did I know that the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service, located toward the back of Belfast City Hospital, was a mere 20 minute walk from the Holylands and open from 9:45am – 8.00pm Monday to Thursday and until 4:45pm on Fridays, meaning it’s easy enough to drop in either before or after class/work.

Before I made the journey to donate I was able to double check that I was eligible by taking this short, easy quiz: http://www.nibts.hscni.net/donating-blood/can-i-donate/. Once I arrived I had to fill out a form confirming I was eligible as it was my first time donating, however the nurses assured me that once I was registered I wouldn’t have to do this again. I was given my number and waited until I was called by one of the nurses.

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When I made the decision to go, two of my friends said that they would donate as well which I was grateful for as I found myself getting slightly nervous as I filled out the form. Being a Grey’s Anatomy veteran I felt like I’d had my fair share of experiences with needles and blood, even open heart surgeries. Sadly, I wasn’t sure if binge watching the surgeons at Seattle Grace was going to be of much help to me now.

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Once I explained to the nurses that it was my first time and I was slightly nervous they were extremely helpful in ensuring I didn’t see the needle or blood and reminded me that I didn’t have to go through with the donation if I felt uncomfortable. The needle prick wasn’t as sore as I had expected it to be, the nurses chatted to me throughout the whole process about everything from uni to the weather making sure my mind was off the fact that half a litre of blood was currently being drained from my body. The time flew and before I knew it I was finished. Once they took the needle out they popped a plaster and dressing on where the needle had been previously to ensure I didn’t get any infections afterwards.

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So, if you’re planning on heading out that night maybe consider a long sleeve shirt so you’re not sporting large brown dressing walking around Bot. I was told to rest for a few minutes afterwards before heading to the refreshments table. My nanny told me that years ago people were given Guinness after donations – whilst this is sadly no longer the case I was given the option between orange or lemon juice, milk and water. I was told to sit for a while and try and drink plenty of liquids to help replace the fluid I’d just lost. This meant I had time to sit and enjoy the biscuits on offer while watching my friends don nervous expressions I was sure I was wearing just 10 minutes previously. While some of the girls were off biscuits for lent the nurse assured us it didn’t count on this occasion because keeping blood sugar levels up was key.

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Once we completed our first donation we were informed that a small booklet would be sent to our homes which would include our blood type but also let us keep a record of donations (women can donate up to 3 times a year while men can donate up to 4.) The whole process was roughly 45 minutes. Because it was so easy I felt guilty that I hadn’t gotten round to donating before and we learned that, amazingly, just 1 donation can help up to 3 patients.

Roisin Watters is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be contacted at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/roisin-watters-661a03a6/, and on Twitter @Roisin_Watters