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Did They Go Too Far? 8 Controversial Marketing Campaigns That Got People Talking

Say you are scrolling Instagram and the first post in your Instagram feed is your favourite shoe brand showcasing a pair of shoes with a strategically placed hand sanitiser. The caption of the post reads “It is where it belongs”. Your immediate reaction? “Did they just say that?” As the days unfold, it’s revealed that this seemingly audacious move was, in fact, a calculated marketing gimmick by the sanitiser brand to get attention and raise awareness about their recently launched product. This is controversial marketing. This blog aims to dive into the concept, examining its effect through 8 examples and questioning whether it’s the type of brand response you aspire to achieve.

Table of Contents

  1. What & How of Controversy Marketing
  2. 8 Brand Examples Who Did Controversy Marketing
  3. Pros & Cons of Controversy Marketing
  4. Conclusion
  5. Frequently Asked Questions

What & How of Controversy Marketing

In today’s busy market, everyone’s gone digital, and standing out is a tough gig. But guess what? Stirring up a little controversy could be your secret weapon to get noticed!

Controversial marketing is all about pushing boundaries, getting people talking, and making your brand unforgettable. Some call it shock marketing. Now, the trick is to be smart about it – not too bold, not too off-putting. When done right, it creates a buzz that sticks with people, boosting your brand. But if you miss the mark? Brace yourself for social media drama and a PR mess.

There are two kinds of controversial marketing: intentional The first is when you plan to stir things up, the second is when it happens by accident. If it feels fake or forced, though, it can backfire.

Hold on before you go all-in on shock marketing. Let’s check out some real examples. Did they start cool conversations, or did they just make people mad? Find out before you take the plunge!

8 Brand Examples Who Did Controversy Marketing

But before you jump on the shock marketing, let’s dive into some real-life examples and see if these campaigns sparked conversation or just plain outrage. Grab your popcorn, because this is where things get interesting.

1. Poonam Pandey who faked her own death

Poonam made waves on February 2nd when she was reportedly diagnosed with cervical cancer in a post on her official Instagram account. Her manager also informed publications that the 32-year-old woman had passed away from cervical cancer. But Poonam returned to Instagram a day later, claiming that she had staged her death to raise awareness of cervical cancer.

She declared, “I am alive,” in an Instagram video. “Cervical cancer did not claim my life. Regretfully, I am unable to make that statement on the countless numbers of women who have lost their lives to cervical cancer.” Her advertising stunt failed horribly, sparking online controversies and trolling.

2. Did Ranbir Kapoor throw a fan’s phone?

Ranbir Kapoor is usually calm around paparazzi and media, rarely losing his composure. However, in a viral video, a fan struggled to take a selfie with him, and Ranbir Kapoor, with a smile, took the fan’s phone and tossed it in the air.

This video sparked mixed reactions online. Some people were upset, thinking he shouldn’t have acted that way with a fan, while others saw it as a promotional stunt. Many fans were surprised, but it turned out to be a marketing strategy by OPPO.

Oppo India later shared an “exclusive” video on Twitter, which could be viewed by users after retweeting their tweet. In the video, Ranbir Kapoor is seen giving a new white smartphone to the boy. The young boy then happily poses for photos, and the actor takes a selfie with him. The entire incident was a promotional campaign to launch Oppo’s new smartphone, the Oppo Reno8 T5G, using a controversial marketing approach.

3. Anushka Sharma Angry on Puma?

It all began when Puma India posted a photo of Anushka Sharma wearing Puma’s sportswear. Sharma took to her Instagram story, expressing disapproval of Puma for featuring her image in an advertisement without her consent. She demanded they take down the post, adding a couple of angry emojis for emphasis. Even her husband, cricketer Virat Kohli, chimed in by sharing the story and urging Puma to “sort this out.”

However, the plot twist arrived soon after. Puma India responded with a playful post of what looks to be a contract to their official Instagram account. The picture has a “confidential” mark and says “Puma x Anushka” on it. The company posted the image along with the message, “Hey @anushkasharma, we should’ve contacted out sooner! So, should we proceed to the next level?

The lighthearted response, coupled with Sharma’s silence on the matter, made it evident that the entire exchange was a staged act. This creative marketing strategy successfully generated significant online buzz and engagement. The cleverly crafted social media “fight” ultimately paved the way for the official announcement of Anushka Sharma as Puma India’s brand ambassador.

4. Nora Fatehi & HDFC

It all started when a “made-up brand” called “Lulumelon” appeared on social media. They posted an advertisement featuring Nora Fatehi promoting a seemingly unbelievable “nearly 100% off” end-of-season sale.

Nora Fatehi, seemingly unaware of the brand, took to her Instagram story expressing shock and outrage. She claimed it was a deepfake and her image was being used without permission. This created a wave of confusion and concern among her followers.

After a short period of online outrage, the truth was unveiled. HDFC Bank, known for its “What the Fraud” campaign promoting financial literacy, revealed it was all clever marketing.

They explained how they created the fake brand “Lulumelon” with a name cleverly mimicking the popular brand “Lululemon” to increase believability. They also used AI and machine learning technology to create a deepfake video where Nora’s face was superimposed on another model’s body.

The entire campaign aimed to raise awareness about online scams and deepfakes. By showcasing how easily someone could be deceived by a seemingly legitimate offer, they hoped to educate viewers about the importance of verifying information before taking action.

5. Kajol got MISSING!

Kajol, known for her active presence on social media, surprised fans by posting a picture with a text saying, “Facing one of the toughest trials of my life.” This was followed by a caption announcing, “Taking a break from social media.”The cryptic message combined with her sudden absence left fans worried and confused. Many speculated about the nature of her struggles, with some expressing concern and sending messages of support.

Adding fuel to the fire, all of Kajol’s previous posts on Instagram mysteriously vanished. This further fueled speculation and kept the topic trending online. Later it turned out to be a strategic move to generate buzz for her upcoming projects. A promotional strategy for her next OTT series Lust Stories 2

6. Kapil Dev got kidnapped?!

A short video clip surfaced online showing Kapil Dev being forcefully taken away by two individuals. He appeared gagged and bound, creating a sense of panic and concern among viewers.

The video quickly went viral, sparking confusion and worry on social media. Many fans, expressed genuine concern for Kapil Dev’s well-being. Cricketers like Gautam Gambhir even shared the video online, hoping it wasn’t real.

The mystery surrounding the video was finally unravelled when Disney+ Hotstar released a complete advertisement featuring Kapil Dev. The video was revealed to be a staged scene, part of a larger ad campaign promoting the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup which Disney+ Hotstar held the broadcasting rights. The ad depicted Kapil Dev, known for his aggressive playing style, playfully demanding an uninterrupted electricity supply during the World Cup matches.

7. T-Series Vs Pewdiepie

The PewDiePie vs T-Series subscriber battle of 2018 was a masterclass in controversial marketing. PewDiePie, known for his sometimes edgy humour that occasionally crossed lines, had already faced criticism for offensive jokes and content. This built-in controversy fueled the fire when the battle with T-Series began.

PewDiePie actively cultivated an “us vs. them” narrative, portraying himself as the underdog individual creator battling the giant corporate machine (T-Series). This resonated with his fanbase, who felt a sense of loyalty and protectiveness.

PewDiePie further stoked the flames by creating content that mocked T-Series and even included some offensive remarks about India. While some fans found this humorous, it also generated backlash and negative publicity.

Popular YouTubers like MrBeast and Logan Paul joined the fray, creating videos urging their audiences to subscribe to PewDiePie. This further amplified the reach and visibility of the battle.

While T-Series ultimately secured the top spot, both channels experienced significant subscriber growth

8. Ronaldo’s Kick to Coca-cola?

In June 2021, during a Euro 2020 press conference, Cristiano Ronaldo caused a stir with Coca-Cola, a major sponsor of the tournament. At a press conference before Portugal’s match against Hungary, Ronaldo sat down and noticed two Coca-Cola bottles placed in front of him. He promptly moved them aside, held up a water bottle, and said “Agua!” which means “Water!” in Portuguese.

This simple act had a surprisingly big impact. The Coca-Cola share price dropped by 1.6%, which translates to a massive $4 billion decline in the company’s market value. It’s important to note that the stock market fluctuates for many reasons, and this drop might not be solely due to Ronaldo.

This incident became known as the “Ronaldo-Coca-Cola controversy.” It highlighted the immense influence that celebrities like Ronaldo can have on brands and consumer perception.

Pros & Cons of Controversy Marketing

Pros Cons
1. Brand awareness : A well-executed controversial campaign can generate massive buzz and put your brand on the map. People will be talking about you, for better or worse. 1. Brand reputation Damage : If the controversy backfires, it can seriously damage your brand image and alienate your target audience. One wrong move can lead to boycotts and a PR nightmare.
2. Spark Conversation : Controversy can be a powerful tool for sparking conversation about important social issues. It can help you connect with your audience on a deeper level. 2. Ethical Concerns : It’s crucial to consider the ethics of your campaign. Don’t offend or exploit people for an unreasonable marketing stunt.
3. Stand Out from the Crowd : In a crowded marketplace, a bit of well-placed controversy can help you cut through the noise and get noticed. 3. Difficult to Pull Off : Controversial marketing is a risky gamble. It requires careful planning, a clear message, and a deep understanding of your target audience.
4. Boost Brand Loyalty : Taking a stand for a cause you believe in can resonate with your core demographic and strengthen customer loyalty. 4. Short-Term Gains, Long-Term Pain : A controversial campaign may generate a temporary buzz, but the long-term damage to your brand reputation could outweigh any short-term benefits.


Controversial marketing can be like a tricky tool – it can make people interested but also damage your reputation. Some campaigns lead to great discussions, while others just create negativity. The important thing is to use it wisely, making sure the controversy matches your brand message. Want to use the buzz without any negative effects? Get in touch with our expert digital marketing agency at hello@florafountain.com and let’s make a campaign that gets people talking for all the right reasons.

Frequently Asked Questions

Not all brands can pull off controversial marketing. It works best for established businesses with a strong brand identity and a target audience that thrives on debate. If you’re unsure, consider a less risky approach to spark conversation.
It’s a possibility. However, if done strategically and with a clear message, it can also generate positive buzz and brand recognition. The key is to be respectful, avoid promoting hate speech and ensure your message aligns with your brand values.
Have a crisis communication plan in place. Be prepared to address concerns and apologise if necessary. Use social media monitoring tools to track the conversation and be ready to respond quickly.

Vasim Samadji is a partner at Flora Fountain, where he leads the Business and Marketing Strategy divisions. He is a seasoned professional with an MBA in marketing and over a decade of experience working with multiple MNCs. Vasim is a firm believer in the power of creation and he is...

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