Publicity via controversy: Kick-Ass vs VicRoads

This week has seen a couple of examples of organisations generating publicity via controversy. Sometimes controversy works as a publicity tool and other times – one has to question whether it risks diluting or obscuring the real message.

For the promoters of the film Kick-Ass, upsetting groups like ‘Focus on Family‘ is probably great publicity. When your target audience is 16-24 year olds, having religious groups fulminating in a tabloid news story about the violence and lewdness of your film seems like a win. Perhaps the main complaint of the Kick-Ass promoters would be that the controversy seems to have died down too quickly.

Meanwhile, VicRoads looks to have generated more controversy than it originally intended with a series of YouTube videos targeted at young drivers.

The videos are part of an online campaign to discourage dangerous behaviour like talking or texting whilst driving. The tagline of the videos – “Don’t be a dickhead”.

VicRoads appears to have been prepared for the potential controversy around the use of the word “dickhead”. According to The Age:

The government defended the campaign, saying its language mimicked how young people speak and using it meant the safety message had a greater chance of getting through.” (The Age 31/03/2010)

So far, so good for VicRoads. Market research probably told them “dickhead” was a word that worked with their target demographic and it was sure to generate some extra news headlines. What they didn’t appear to have anticipated was the backlash around some of the videos which makes fun of “gingers”.

These videos have reportedly led to complaints to the Advertising Standards Bureau and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. So far there’s been no side-bite comeback in defence of the “gingers” angle.

VicRoads had an opportunity to leverage it’s controversial tagline to promote it’s “don’t be a dickhead” message. The additional “ginger” controversy may further boost awareness of the videos, but diluted the focus of the news media coverage and may yet come back to bite VicRoads and the Victorian government.

Hat-tip to  the pair of blogging redheads with brains & beauty over at Skepticlawyer for the pointer to the VicRoads story.

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