4 of the Most Controversial Ads: What Marketers Can Learn

Advertising campaigns can get complicated. When executed well, they can generate sales, increase consumer loyalty, and elevate brand awareness. However, some advertisements become memorable for controversial reasons. 

In this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the most controversial ads over the last five years. We’ll also discuss the pros and cons of controversial marketing. 

4 Examples of Controversial YouTube Ads

An ad is too controversial if it causes negative reactions with its offensive, tasteless, or harmful content, or if the ad’s environment is offensive, regardless of the ad’s content. According to a CMO Council survey, 48% of adult consumers would rethink purchasing from a brand whose ads run alongside offensive content. 

Let’s take a look at four examples of controversial YouTube ads.   

1. Nike: “Just Do It” (2018)

One of the most widely-talked-about ads was Nike’s Just Do It commercial with former NFL player Colin Kaepernick. The ad spoke volumes about self-preservation and belief in oneself. However, many viewers didn’t respond well to the casting decision in light of the spokesperson’s controversial actions of kneeling during the national anthem.  

2. Gillette: “We Believe the Best Men Can Be” (2019)

Gillette’s We Believe the Best Men Can Be is a classic case of more harm than good. While the ad does a solid job of raising awareness of toxic masculinity (through various behaviors), some felt the commercial generalized men, prompting negative responses from viewers. The message had good intentions, but the execution was poor. 

3. McDonald’s: “Dead Dad” (2017)

To some, McDondald’s Dead Dad commercial came off as insensitive for using a grieving child to promote fast food products. Sure, the ad did a great job of tapping into the emotional side of viewers, but the idea of using psychological grief for service promotion left a bad taste in some people’s mouths. 

4. Tesco: “Nothing’s Stopping Us” (2021) 

In 2021, Tesco released their Nothing’s Stopping Us holiday ad, featuring a Santa Claus with a vaccination passport so he didn’t have to be quarantined. As you can imagine, the ad sparked controversy, especially from vaccination skeptics.

Tesco did a great job combining a catchy tune with holiday joy to give viewers a memorable ad. However, the company ignited controversy by bringing up a topic that sparks divisive attitudes.  

Controversial Advertising Tactics

Controversial ad campaigns can be cost-effective in helping helps brands rise above the competition. However, if you get too controversial, you risk alienating your consumers while causing sales to plummet. If you decide to get creative with your marketing campaign with some controversy, it’s vital that you follow some standards.

Here is what you need to understand about running a successful campaign built on controversy:

1. Focus on Conversations

Find a creative way to get people talking about your brand without straying from decency; this means avoiding topics such as politics, religion, war, or anything sure to evoke anger and hostility. The key is to increase viewership and brand recognition without causing an unnecessary uproar. 

2. Align with Brand Values

Releasing a controversial ad can be a smart tactic if you find a way to tie it back to your brand’s values. How can you remain authentic? What underlying message do you want viewers to take away from your ad? Nike’s “Just Do It” 2018 ad featuring professional athlete Colin Kaepernick is a prime example of smart controversy.    


While the company featured a sports figure who faced national scrutiny, Nike stuck with its brand message of bringing inspiration to every athlete. 

3. Have a Crisis Plan Ready

Sometimes, controversy won’t pay off. When negative receptions overflow your company’s social media pages, have a crisis plan ready; this means taking appropriate measures to mitigate any reputation damage. 

Identify company personnel responsible for responding to the backlash. Remain empathetic when responding to consumer complaints. Finally, ensure you consider feedback from customers for future campaigns. 

Controversial ad campaigns are tricky. While your company can use them to incentivize consumer conversions and make a memorable impression, they can also destroy your brand’s reputation in the long run. So when is the right time for you to take risks? 

If your company can tap into popular discussions as part of a marketing strategy to increase engagement without causing harm, then take the risk. Remember to remain authentic by aligning your content with your brand’s image. 

Maximize Ad Performance with Channel Factory

The most controversial ads leave memorable impressions on consumers. The key is to assess your intentions, remain true to your brand’s values, and respond appropriately if your ads cause public harm.

Channel Factory can help your company remain true to its image. Our contextual targeting solutions ensure your ads run with relevant content that makes sense for your brand.   

Contact us today to discover how we can help your brand succeed!

How to Find Your Target Audience Online: 5 Solutions for Improving Brand Recognition

Do you know where your audience spends their time online or what platforms they use?

Like most marketers, you’re probably always looking for innovative ways to connect with your target audience and increase brand awareness. But have you studied your ideal customers’ online patterns? Do you know how to find your audience on social media

To figure out how to find your target audience, you first must learn which platforms your audience frequents, what content they consume, and how they interact with your brand. This requires some brainstorming, a little detective work, and an in-depth analysis of your website’s analytics.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about how to find your target audience online so you can tailor your marketing campaigns to them. 

How to Find Your Target Audience on Social Media and Elsewhere

As an advertiser, you must comprehensively understand your audience’s digital behavior to nurture and convert them into loyal brand customers.       

Here are five methods for finding your target audience online. 

1. Identify Your Target Persona

Before you can try to figure out where your target audience is, you have to first figure out who your target audience is.

In the complex world of marketing, defining your customer persona is essential, yet many marketers fail at this. An annual report found that only 42% of marketers know the demographics of their target audience. Without defining your consumer base, your advertising campaigns will certainly fail. 

To identify your audience, ask yourself questions about your ideal customer base. 

Get specific by asking:

  • What is the age range?
  • Where do they live?
  • Do they have kids?
  • What is their educational background?
  • What are their interests, needs, and goals?
  • What’s their gender?

2. Discover Which Social Media Platform Your Audience Frequents

Defining your customer persona is the first step in finding your target audience. The next is figuring out which social media platforms they frequent. Learning how to find your audience on social media can be tricky if you use a mass-marketing technique that aims to be active on all social channels. Chances are, your audience doesn’t frequent everywhere.

Your audience will latch on to one or more platforms as their main online hangout spots. You can use social media insights to assess which platforms and content resonate most with your target audience. This will help you determine the best content to produce and where to put it.         

For example, if you’re in the home and garden industry, you may want to use videos as your content type because gardening naturally lends itself to “how-to” videos that would work great for a platform like YouTube.

Of course, you’ll only want to focus your efforts on social media platforms your target audience uses; there’d be no point in creating stunning graphics if most of your target demographic is exclusively on TikTok.

Determining the social media channels you should target will help you narrow down the type of content you’ll want to produce. It’s a stepping stone in your journey toward increasing customer loyalty.  

But oftentimes—somewhere in the Venn diagram of where your audience hangs out and the types of content your brand fits naturally—lies a platform that checks all the boxes. 

3. Examine Your Competitors

Chances are good that at least a few of your competitors are succeeding when it comes to customer conversion rates and brand recognition. Why? Because they understand where their target customers are online and how they operate in a digital atmosphere. The key here is to examine their strategies in depth and then replicate their successes. 

What platforms are they advertising on? Who are they addressing? What messaging tactics do they use? Identify any opportunities to improve your reach so you can get a solid idea of where your audience operates. 

4. Submit Customer Surveys

Your existing customers can provide your business with valuable insights into your target market, especially information about the channels they use. 

By surveying current customers, you’ll have a better understanding of their channel preferences and the kind of content they consume. Do they prefer longer video product tutorials? Or do they prefer to consume content in short snippets? Do they have any favorite websites they visit? 

Tailor your questions to identify valuable information on consumer trends and practices. 

5. Analyze Website Traffic

Dive into the traffic analytics for your website. Specifically, determine who is visiting your site, what the typical bounce rate is, and your current conversion rates. You should also determine where your users come from (referral sources, social media links, industry sites, etc.). 

Knowing where your website traffic is coming from provides a good indication of where your target audience spends their time. 

Discover Your Audience with Channel Factory

Once you’ve learned how to find your target audience, the next step is to modify your marketing strategies so your ads run alongside relevant content. Channel Factory can get you started. With our contextual targeting services, we can maximize your brand’s recognition by ensuring the right content is paired with your advertisements.

Leverage the power of audience targeting by contacting us for more information.