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  • Isaiah Sistrunk

Provocative or Playing it Safe?

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

Advertising and marketing have taken a different direction in the past decade. Gone are the days when advertisers could air a provocative ad and face little to no repercussions. In today’s climate with topics such as cancel culture, social media, social justice, and ecological sustainability. It is much more difficult to plan an ad campaign when all those factors must be accounted for. This has prompted many businesses to either address these issues, play it safe, or do both. Launching ads with those factors in mind is much easier for large corporations who already have the customer base, reach, and resources to do it. However, it is much harder for small to mid-sized companies to adapt, as they need more exciting ads to set themselves apart from the competition. So, is it better to play it safe or be more provocative with advertising?

What is safe advertising?

Safe advertising encompasses ad campaigns with minimal risks and moderate to large rewards. They usually involve social issues to draw interest from their intended audience and use direct messages. Safe advertising is typically used by larger corporations and regional powerhouses. These larger businesses have the resources to where they don’t need to risk being controversial with their ads to gain recognition and reach their target audience. They typically will receive a moderate increase in profits from their advertisements and typically have the resources to deal with any underperforming ad campaigns. Small businesses also use safe advertising. However, with the abundance of businesses nowadays that sell the same products, small businesses usually have to find a way to stand out from their larger counterparts and safe advertising usually doesn’t allow for that.

What is provocative advertising?

I believe this definition sums it up “Provocative advertising is one technique frequently used by many advertisers that may be effective to break through the advertising clutter. It is a technique that uses a deliberate appeal within an advertisement in order to shock at least a few of the audience” (Vézina & Paul, 1994). With all the advertisements from competitors, the main goal of provocative advertisements is to bring recognition to the company behind the ad. Safe advertisements typically don’t do enough to reel in consumers for most small businesses. Therefore, provocative advertising is a great way to build recognition and grow your consumer base. Provocative advertisements are thought provoking and usually shock the audience. They do this by going against conventional advertising norms and they typically produce trends. These types of advertisements can be risky for a small business and the controversy can either propel the business into stardom or sink it.

It is clear that both forms of advertising have their pros and cons. Many small businesses will be unable to grow without an innovative and provocative ad campaign. However, some small business owners are perfectly content with staying small and local. Therefore, safe advertising is just fine for them. Safe advertising is also a good bet for large companies that want to keep steadily increasing their profit margins. However, a large company that is losing profits might need to turn to provocative advertising to turn things around. Whatever your end goal is, make sure to pick the option that is in the best interests of your company.

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