This morning, Keira Knightley's "sexually suggestive" Chanel advert was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority. In it, the actress is seen in a partial state of undress and whispers seductively to a photographer. The content itself is probably no worse than many of the television shows or movies shown on television these days, but that fact that the advert was shown as a trailer before screenings of the children's movie 'Ice Age 2' was the last straw for the ad and, ultimately, the brand.
The news will probably lead many brands to re-assess any slightly controversial advertising they have lined up, but that isn't the only thing they should consider - they also need to take into account any content marketing they have planned. After all, this really is a form of advertising; albeit subtle. Really, the question is this: is there a place for controversy in content marketing?
Talk about a grey area...
Really, it depends on a) the controversial topic in question and b) how it is handled. Yes, sex sells, but taking a controversial stance over anything - especially within branded content - is risky, so brands need to know how to take advantage of slightly dangerous topics without negatively impacting their reputation.
You should only be controversial if you're really sure that the risk will pay off. For example, if you fancy capitalising on a recent news story by writing a blog that reflects your brand's (perhaps scandalous) opinion on the matter, compare the potential benefits with the risks.
Yes, newsjacking could help you boost traffic, take advantage of Google's Query Deserves Freshness algorithm and heighten awareness of your brand. However if, in your haste to capitalise on the news, you get the facts wrong - or really rub your prospects up the wrong way - it could have a really negative impact on your reputation.
Make A/B testing your friend
If you aren't sure if the potential benefits outweigh the chance of disaster, embrace A/B testing before making any content public. For example, if you've made some great visual content that uses adult themes or language, set up a focus group for said testing. Split the group in two; present one half with the controversial content and the other with a less controversial prototype. You should be able to get a better grasp on the potential value of publishing your original idea from the responses.
Plus, take the time to learn from mistakes made by other brands or publishers. By taking these into account, you can - to a certain extent - judge what your brand can and cannot get away with.
Don't be scared of a little controversy
The important thing is not to rule out being a bit dangerous altogether. Taking a chance can get people talking about your brand (even more pertinent in this age of social media) and can elevate your traffic/rankings. Just be careful that you're handling any controversial content and its promotion with care. If you do the appropriate testing and steer clear of being scandalous for the sake of it, you should find your brand reaping all the benefits and none of the risk. Good luck!