When is it strategic to be provocative in advertising?

Microsoft has yanked a controversial ad for its Internet Explorer 8 browser - which features a woman vomiting several times - after an outcry among users.

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Comment by Alexandra Hobson on September 19, 2009 at 9:20am
If the objective of advertising is to create recall and "buzz" about a product, what do you think about how this ad approaches that task? Clearly, its over the line. Microsoft pulled it, not surprisingly. But, when is it OK, or even strategic, to offend - or stimulate other strong emotions - in the effort of getting the word out and creating a groundswell for something?

Obviously in politics its become de rigueur to use attack ads and otherwise pounce on emotional heartstrings. Remember the Hillary "3 AM" ads? When is it strategic for marketers to be more provocative in their communications?
Comment by Michael B. Moore on September 19, 2009 at 6:23pm
Provocative can be good. I think, though, that's there's probably a difference between political attack ads and consumer product advertising in the sense that we don't have one product - essentially - creating an ad that says very little about its product, but focuses mostly on maligning the competition. Even the Apple ads that depict Microsoft as a frumpy older "nerd" are done with a smile.

The FCC has rules about what one company can say about another. Until the FEC adopts similar rules (don't hold your breath), we'll continue to see ads like the Willie Horton one etc. that can be seen as cavalier with the truth.

All that said, while I think the Microsoft ad above is "gross", it certainly delivers a clear and strategic message about its product in a clear and compelling way!
Comment by DavidCrace on September 20, 2009 at 10:26am
I think the biggest mistake with this one is not that its provocative and gross, but that it is so out of brand character for Microsoft. Some brands have strategic license to be provocative, others just don't. For example, I'd say Kanye was within character to do what he did at VMAs.
Comment by Preston Samuels on September 20, 2009 at 11:19am
Can speaking out of a brand's voice be used as a strategic tool? I don't know anything about IE8, but if MS was losing share to other browsers and wanted to shake things up, couldn't something like this ad be used, knowing that it would create lots of buzz.

The folks at Microsoft and their agency are smart, no doubt. What do you think they were trying to accomplish with this?


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