Shock Value – More Bang for Your Marketing Bucks?


This past weekend my friend asked if I had seen the Spirit Airlines ad that was pulled. Given Spirit’s marketing strategy I knew it had to be bad, after all this is the company that pairs copy like “shave off the savings” with images of men’s back hair. Sure enough, Spirit’s latest ad campaign featured a Secret Service look-a-like with girls in bikinis in the background. The headline, “More bang for your buck” obviously plays off the recent Secret Service scandal in Colombia.

After much uproar, Spirit pulled the ad and replaced it with generic copy, but the damage was done. Or was it? Shock-value marketing is renowned for “cutting through the clutter” and getting attention. In Spirit’s case, it’s clearly working – just take a look at their financials.

But before you tread down this path, take a moment to consider whether shock-value marketing is right for your brand.  Spirit is a low-cost airline with limited hubs – they aren’t competing for the same customers as United or British Airways. If your brand is more serious or high-end, shock-value marketing may come at a huge cost. You may get more attention, but you risk losing consumer confidence or alienating long-term customers.

So how do you know if this type of marketing campaign is right for you?  It’s all about your audience.  Are these people who would appreciate a tongue-in-cheek, shocking campaign, or should you talk to them differently? Not sure how to identify your audience? Check out this article for some tips.


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