Controversial PR – is it ever worth the risk?

PR is all about communicating a client’s message to its audience, whether that be through the press, social media, or even word of mouth.

However, with the vast amount of brands out there, it can sometimes be a struggle to be noticed. That is, unless, you have something major up your sleeve to get people talking…

Whilst most PR pros would argue against the whole notion of ‘any publicity is good publicity’, that hasn’t stopped some companies from trying something a bit more controversial in order to stir up some interest.

We take a look at some recent risky campaigns to see whether it paid off:


Now, whilst most people would argue that this campaign was a great way to raise awareness of palm oil production, and the impact that it has on the rainforest and the orangutan’s who inhabit it, it was banned from TV for breaking a advertising code rule against content from political organisations.

However, this didn’t stop it from becoming one of the most powerful Christmas adverts of 2018, gathering up over 70 million views via social media after Iceland posted it and informed the public that it had been banned.

It was reported that Iceland consequently saw an increase in sales on its mince pies, one of the supermarket’s products to go free from palm oil, and also saw the advert ranked better than the likes of the famous John Lewis, Aldi and Sainsbury’s Christmas adverts. Big boots to fill, but in this case, being slightly controversial did the trick.


On a slightly lighter note, another interesting stunt came on behalf of NowTV, who celebrated Jurassic Park’s 25th anniversary by constructing a 25ft statue of a bare-chested Jeff Goldblum next to the Tower Bridge in London. The 150kg build took six weeks to make, but attracted a lot of attention from passers-by, and also on social media. It also generated a lot of positive media interest.

Whilst NowTV could have opted for a safer, and easier stunt – perhaps an interactive dinosaur pop-up, or recreating the iconic Jurassic jeep – they took a risk and unleashed the seductively posed giant statue instead. And it’s safe to say it went down a treat.


We all remember the controversy surrounding the Pepsi campaign, featuring Kendall Jenner, back in 2017. Whilst trying to push a message of peace and unity, Pepsi instead ended up portraying a reality TV show star settling a Black Lives Matter protest by offering a police officer a can of Pepsi. Not a smart move for the brand.

Pepsi pulled the advert and President Brad Jakeman ended up stepping down a few months later. PR disaster.


A recent PR controversy comes from Gillette and its ‘We Believe: The Best a Man Can Be’ campaign. The advert aimed to challenge toxic masculinity, but instead angered its viewers, with some claiming the brand was initiating a war against men.

Some viewers took to social media, to swear they would never buy Gillette razors again, and the Youtube video saw a hefty amount of dislikes, but just a few weeks after the backlash, it’s been revealed that sales have actually been unaffected, and that media coverage and consumer engagement has increased.

Did Gillette know this would happen? Perhaps we will never know, but maybe this example is proof that doing something a bit daring can still produce results, even if it is a close shave.


As enticing as controversial campaigns may appear, it is worth remembering that all publicity is not necessarily good publicity; campaigns should be well researched and well executed in order to reel in positive column inches.