RISKY BUSINESS: USING CONTROVERSY IN ADVERTISING
STEALTH’s newest billboard went viral.
Our new billboard went up today. You can find it on Warman Road near the Lawson Heights Mall in Saskatoon.
A couple of months ago, we posted this photoshopped image of a billboard to IMGUR, the popular image sharing website. It was a half-joking, half-serious sort of thing, asking “…Should we?…” The response we got to the post was so big, that we decided to go ahead and do it. Here is the original post: https://imgur.com/gallery/cohlMDy
Look at that. 150,000 views and some 350+ comments for a billboard… an advertisement. Doesn’t happen every day! We soon got a notification saying that it was currently a top viral image.
More recently, we learned that it was actually one of the most popular images of the year. IMGUR’s 2019 year in review showcased it in the “Top New Memes” category, right between Keanu Reeves and Baby Yoda. How’s that for being in good company? https://imgur.com/gallery/QrRDL2z
(Listen, we don’t claim to have invented the phrase, “Epstein didn’t kill himself” – we were only having some fun, memeing about with this popular news item and conspiracy theory.)
For those who don’t know: We were picking on notorious bad guy Jeffery Epstein, who was in jail awaiting trial for federal charges related to sex trafficking of minors, and was found dead in his cell. It was ruled a suicide, despite the fact that he was on suicide watch – with guards asleep on the job, security video being mysteriously unavailable, and several other details that add to the story’s fishiness. This obviously led to the internet blowing up with a variety of conspiracy theories – everything from, “He’s still alive, escaped prison, and is sipping Pina Coladas on one of his secret island getaways,” to “His powerful, rich, and shady associates had him killed, to prevent him from naming names.”
Normally, it’s not a fantastic idea for companies to take sides on controversial subjects and political issues. This is a special case. Pretty much everyone, all corners of the political spectrum, didn’t like this guy and agree that something wasn’t right here. Whatever this was, it wasn’t good… and maybe somebody is hiding something from us! Thus the phrase, “Epstein didn’t kill himself” has gained popularity.
As marketers it’s critical to keep a finger on the pulse of current events. What are people talking about? What’s the news of the day? What’s shocking? What’s funny? Catch the right trend at the perfect time… and a post, or even a campaign, can go viral, bringing loads of extra attention to STEALTH or one of our clients. It’s a very amazing thing to witness in action.
A cynical person might say it’s terrible, the way advertising found its way into social media and other websites, which were meant to be fun. But hey, if you don’t like something then you should vote it down or ignore it. People who like things will vote them up and share them. Much better system than those extra loud, 4-5 minute forced interruptions of the show you’re trying to watch on TV, isn’t it?
Happy new year! 🙂
Update (Jan 6th) – If Ricky Gervais can joke about it in front of millions at the Golden Globes, it’s probably fair game for a billboard.