Marketing on a Budget: Shock & Awe

I start my musings with a case study of sorts, which centres on the ‘success’ of an advertising campaign by British firm, Antonio Federici.
An energetic and vibrant brand, Antonio Federici produce top quality Italian-style ice cream that is stocked by Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Harrods. Winners of the International Ice Cream Consortium’s (IICC) ‘Best Ice Cream in the World’ award in 2009, the London-based company has grown quickly, amassing sales and plaudits in equal measure.
Wishing to build on its reputation as an intelligent, fun-spirited outfit, Antonio Federici’s Creative Director, Matt O’Connor, approached a friend of mine, Edwin Stemp, and commissioned his Manchester-based creative agency, Contrast Creative, to produce a series of deliberately challenging, provocative and clever adverts that would feature nuns and priests succumbing (or appearing to succumb) to forbidden temptations.
So, when his dog wasn’t biting my house rabbit (long story), Ed did his job and created a handful of deliciously devilish ads that, while brilliantly composed, photographed and designed, were always going to rock the boat. And rock the boat they did, upsetting religious groups before earning a ban from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Banned Advert Number Two
The first advert to be banned featured in Delicious magazine and Sainsbury’s Magazine. It captured a nun about to kiss a priest (main picture). Another pictured two male priests, again about to kiss, under the strap line “we believe in salvation”. A third, which was banned at the beginning of September having been placed in Grazia, Look and The Lady, featured a pregnant nun beneath the strap line “immaculately conceived”.
The Third advert banned
Although designed to shock, or breed debate at the very least, the adverts received relatively few complaints – the first ad generated just two grumbles from Delicious magazine’s readers and five from Sainsbury’s Magazine – and, had no one kicked up a fuss, I would not be writing this column, in turn generating yet more interest into Antonio Federici’s racy campaign.
This shock tactic, although played down by O’Connor, who insists that the ads were “playful and designed to provoke thought, not offend,” has worked. The campaign cultivated far more coverage and press activity (stories in The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Independent…) than it would have were it a simple, food-centric, “Here is our well photographed, award winning ice cream. Doesn’t it look lovely…” M&S style ad.
But while it has clearly been a success for Matt, this method may not be right for you and your business. Antonio Federici wishes to be seen as edgy, witty, sharp. And a nun sporting a bump was unlikely to offend its core market and/or have a reverse effect on sales. Indeed, the fact that the advert was banned played neatly into its hands. This may not work for a less risk-inclined or conservative brand, though.
To summarise then, there are ways to get an unnatural response from the simple act of advertising; to obtain maximum coverage from a modest outlay. However, before you commission Edwin and ask him to upset the Pope, first you must consider carefully whether this kind of impact advertising represents your brand and its place in the market, and determine if it will have a positive or negative effect on your business. And remember: there is more than one way to cook a goose.
You can also follow Simon Swan on Twitter: @Simon_Swan