August 18, 2015

Hot Topics: Create Content That Doesn't Shy From Controversy

Marketers are often faced with the challenge of creating content that is both creative and relevant. Stories that spark the readers’ interest and create a forum for discussion have a longer shelf-life since the dialogue frequently transcends the page and is carried over into social media and conversations with colleagues, family and friends.

The objective when choosing a relevant, timely topic shouldn’t be to create controversy per se. Knowing how to frame a story within parameters that lend themselves to discussion is different than stirring divisive debate.

One example of a brand approaching a timely topic without having to name names or undermine competitors is Chipotle’s Scarecrow campaign.

Given the growing discussion about GMOs, the food we eat and where it comes from, Chipotle Mexican Grill tackled the issue head on with the Scarecrow video and gaming app. The film, created by Academy Award®–winning Moonbot Studios, features a cover of “Pure Imagination” from the 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” performed by Fiona Apple, and relies an anti-factory farming message intended to highlight Chipotle’s commitment to sustainable, organic and humane  agricultural processes.

Chipotle certainly didn’t shy away from the tough issues surrounding food production, but they managed to do so in a straightforward, down-to-earth manner. The truth is though, without key facts and figures, it’s difficult to know if what Chipotle preaches is what they truly practice. Then again, they haven’t delved into any specifics that they can be held accountable for. Rather, they’ve created a dialogue regarding healthy eating.

Chipotle, of course, is not the first or last brand to deal with topical issues. Benetton, the Italian fashion brand, has famously confronted race, sexuality, war, crime and AIDS in its advertising since the 1980s. Although considered highly controversial in their day, many of these ads were simply a reflection of the times, and created brand awareness by being socially relevant.

Some tips for being creative and opportune without raising hackles are:

  • Check Your Tone: It is possible to voice your views without sounding overly self-important. Yes, your opinion matters but make it clear that it is precisely that—an opinion—and that you’re open to other outlooks as well.
  • Respond Respectfully: Any viewpoint is subject to disagreement. Be respectful of those who differ with yours and courteously engage them in conversation.
  • Admit Your Mistakes: Sorry may indeed be the hardest word. If you perceive that your readers are taken aback by your perspective, own it and be open to the possibility that you’ve gone too far. It shows strength of character to admit your mistakes and your audience will eventually respect you for it.

In the end, defending a position is not about offending your opponents. Clearly stating your case, offering ample evidence to support your claims and leaving the content open to discussion will ensure your readers are engaged but not enraged. The best thing we can do as content creators is to have a finger on the pulse of the world we live in, but at the same time, we must recognize that brands are about uniting and not dividing consumers. Nevertheless, a point of view is vital.

As Ezra Pound notably said, “If a man isn't willing to take some risk for his opinions, either his opinions are no good or he's no good.”

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