How Far is Too Far?

It’s perhaps one of the biggest tensions that marketing professionals have to wrestle with: How far is too far? Dealers selling anything from dozers and big-rigs to toothpaste and toys have to figure out ways to be relevant, edgy, and interesting, while still keeping their target demographics in mind. How can we keep our current customers feeling good about our products so they don’t leave, while also being dynamic enough to bring in new buyers – especially younger generations that can keep your company in business for decades to come??

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To bring in those new leads and sales, many dealers will market their inventory by being bold and, sometimes, divisive. We were at a trade show recently where a vendor decided to embrace the community’s frustration regarding a governmental regulation. Their main promotional material depicted a massive image that could be interpreted as offensive. How’s that for an attention-getter?!

The display sparked a great deal of conversation at the trade show, as well as among our team when we returned from the trip. On one hand, the campaign received a great deal of attention and discussion, which, for a marketer whose main goal is to spread brand-awareness, could be considered a resounding success. Plus, the company successfully played to a strongly convicted base who dislike perceived government overreach. The language used suggested they were willing to “say what everyone is thinking,” which a number of show attendees surely appreciated.

On the other hand, it’s no surprise that many people weren’t thrilled about the promotion. The display had some obviously controversial imagery and implications at a show where some had brought their families, including young children. Not every show attendee was comfortable with the implied language and attitude. In addition, not every attendee was so firmly against the regulation. Assuming that all consumers were the same was a problematic generalization. According to one attendee, “A vendor thinking that this is how to market to me was insulting.”

While the company must have been undoubtedly pleased with the attention they got, we wonder how satisfied they were with the type of scrutiny they received. Some consumers certainly felt both validated and entertained and, subsequently, interested in the product. Others may have been turned away from the vendor, resulting in a loss of leads and sales. Only those with internal company numbers may know for sure how the promotion impacted, for better or for worse, their reputation and profits.

So, how far is too far? Well, that’s really up to you as the dealer marketing your inventory. Your answer could depend on a whole host of variables, from audience response and sales potential to your own personal convictions. Knowing your customers, your industry, and your own ethics is key to helping you set the right boundaries with controversial marketing. There are no easy answers in sales or in marketing, but with strategic forethought, you can develop campaigns which strike that careful balance between maintaining brand reputation and loyalty and expanding brand relevance and awareness!!

Have you ever seen an advertising promotion that you think went too far?? Should marketing teams be more sensitive to all audiences, or should people be less sensitive to messages they don’t like?? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!!


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