Attending The Social Shake-up in Atlanta this week? Send us a note if you'd like to meet up at the event.

10 Examples to Increase Sales with Controversial Content

Probably one of my favorite aspect of advertising is controversial content to a new interruption marketing time. Read Seth Godin’s book about Permission Marketing to understand how marketers are changing or dying. Everyone read just about 1 million words a day and that’s probably the reason why now on Facebook you’ll see people engaging more on photos which contain words. It’s just visually easier to eat.

Not only you will increase awareness on your products but also sales by using controversial content. Now what am I talking about? Let’s learn a bit from one of the best marketer of our time, Ryan Holiday, who’s handling American Apparel’s latest campaigns. It only took about $1,500 worth of production to distribute these banners below to get about millions of earned media dollars. From his recent book, “Trust Me, I’m Lying“, Ryan gives clear tips on how to manipulate the media: Start with Small Blog Outreach, Always think Self Interest, and Feed the Monster, the big medias.

These days, Nielsen is reporting over 200 Million blogs in 2012. That’s a lot of bloggers hungry for content. You’ve got to play smarter than them and understand you’re doing them a favor by providing them with content. Now your content needs to get their attention and be controversial enough so that they can get quick traffic. Controversial content online gets the most views, it’s just a fact. Cats beat Dogs and Babies online, should you have cats in your ads? Yeah, of course, as long as it goes along with your message. Remember that creating a big snowball of buzz isn’t only by chance but by attracting this chance. Using Google’s Blog Search, you can find local blogs that will be more than happy to write about your ads. These same blogs are sometimes read by bigger blogs, read by the major blogs as well.

To feed the monster, aka the news cycle with hungry bloggers from around the world, you need to create emotional stories that even appeal to the blogger himself and almost create the narrative for him or her. Think yourself if you would share this with your busiest friends, if it’s controversial enough, you’ll see bloggers taking the story to places you’ll have spent thousands of dollars to get placement onto.

As MIT’s Henry Jenkins puts it: on the web, “if it doesn’t spread, it’s dead.” The mechanisms for spreading and popularizing content on the internet are there. Content producers are going to cover someone.

So, make sure that someone is you.

Here are my 10 examples to increase sales with controversial content or ads:


Marithé Francois Girbaud

Religion is one of the most fragile topics that almost everyone is sensitive about. From the atheist to the religious, they all have a strong opinion and are serious about it. Thus, using religion to depict fashion will start a debate. French clothing company, Marithé Francois Girbaud got into trouble when they chose the Last Supper as a theme for their summer line campaign. And to make matters a little stickier, they used The Da Vinci Code twist in it.

 10 Examples to Increase Sales with Controversial Content


JBS Underwear

Want to sell more men’s underwear? Then use female models.

Here’s why: No guy wants to stare at another half naked guy to see how the boxer shorts that he’s about to buy make that guy look, so why not just give them something a little more eye-catching to look at while they make their decision. JBS Underwear agrees, and decided to use underwearless women in the advertisements for their new men’s line. Smart move JBS; smart move.





A known stereotype holds that fashion models are starving, bitchy and drug addicted. It’s these factors that make the girls look bad and we all know how that is accepted worldwide. Sisley decided to run an image in one of their campaigns of models sniffing a white dress and looking wired. P.S.: there is also some white power and a credit card in the frame.

 10 Examples to Increase Sales with Controversial Content



Dolce & Gabanna

This image caused controversy because instead of just playing on sex appeal, the woman’s blank expression and submissive positioning while being held down makes it seem as she is being held against her will—forced into a scenario she does not wish to take part in. Therefore, many people took the image to depict gang rape. Her helpless position suggests domestic violence. There was uproar from the public with these images because these advertisements seemed to indicate that Dolce & Gabbana were promoting abuse. However, every blog is still talking about it today!

 10 Examples to Increase Sales with Controversial Content



American Apparel

No matter what you think about the clothes, American Apparel has, hands down, the hottest ads we’ve ever seen. In fact, they’re not just the hottest ads, but some of the hottest pictures, period. From using porn stars (i.e Sasha Grey, below) as models to showing as much skin as possible as a rule (we’re taking straight up naked), American Apparel has pushed the limits of advertising in the US to an awesomely sexy level.

 10 Examples to Increase Sales with Controversial Content



Tom Ford

With a clear vision of what it means to be a gentleman, Tom Ford Menswear has managed to successfully translate this into stylish suits, distinctive cologne, and millions of bucks. Fast forward eight years and Tom Ford is now known almost as much for their provocative advertisements as much as the clothes and accessories they are celebrated for. No stranger to controversy, and at times actively courting it, the brand has created some of fashion’s most iconic ad campaigns, leaving stylish men and women looking forward to each new season.

tom ford for men ad1 10 Examples to Increase Sales with Controversial Content



Kenneth Cole

All the controversy, or whatever, about Kenneth Cole personally writing a tweet that used the protests in Egypt as a cheap trick to generate buzz over his new spring line has me thinking about all the times Cole has succeeded in using clever marketing to draw attention to social issues and sell clothes.

 10 Examples to Increase Sales with Controversial Content



Ché Magazine

Men’s Magazine Ché shows a beautiful girl with a short white skirt that says: “My Number” with a downward arrow pointing at removable phone number tags. This is a real attention grabber for men. The slogan that is accompanied with this print ad is: Let’s keep on dreaming of a better world”.

chemynumber1 10 Examples to Increase Sales with Controversial Content


Jour Apres Lune

Kids are already growing up too fast these days and it doesn’t help with the sexualisation of young children by this French label. A lingerie line was launched by the company to cater to young girls. While this can still be accepted, the ad campaign was something altogether. Girls as young as 10 years old donning stiletto heels, belly button piercing and in heavy make-up – really inappropriate!

 10 Examples to Increase Sales with Controversial Content


Agent Provocateur

Luxury lingerie company, Agent Provocateur, released a two-minute mini-movie to promote their new collection in late 2011, inspired by the Hammer horror movies of the late ’50s and ’60s. The commercial was labeled as “disturbing” and “misogynistic” by one individual for its portrayal of violence and cannibalism (we don’t see it either), depicting a terrified woman being dragged through her house by a group of scantily-clad models, possibly hopped up models.

The post 10 Examples to Increase Sales with Controversial Content appeared first on

Join The Conversation

Webinars On Demand

  • May 09, 2017
    With all of the technologies available to marketers today, have we lost that personal touch? Join VP of Content Marketing for ON24, Mark Bornste...
  • April 05, 2017
    In the ever-changing world of digital marketing, operational efficiency, quick turn-around times, testing and adapting to change are crucial to...