Damien Hirst - SharkRecently I visited to the Damien Hirst exhibition at the Tate Modern in London to see for myself whether the artist can in fact be regarded as such or if he is indeed an impostor inflicting his works of ‘art’ on the helpless public.

After a couple of hours walking around a giant ashtray filled with damp and used cigarettes, a severed cow’s head complete with flies buzzing round it and countless canvasses covered with dots I have to say I would agree with the latter. However, it did get me thinking about marketing and different people’s approaches to it.

The exhibition was filled with people either admiring or making up their own minds about Hirst’s work. So, whether or not they were ardent fans, they were still there. Hirst’s work is extremely controversial, but it does generate immense interest. In the same way, marketing can be seen as either safe or controversial, depending on your view point, but either way it divides audiences.

Safe marketing does not mean boring.

It can be a tried and tested method, which businesses know works well for them. For example, an established IT company may use corporate images, taken by a professional photographer, and non-technical language in their marketing in order to look reputable and to avoid alienating their clients and potential clients.

Controversial marketing is designed to shock and can work well if you truly understand your market, target audience or ideal customer. Your message will need to directly target a specific group and only them – alienating those outside your market and who will probably never become your customer. Even if your controversial marketing fails I can guarantee that it will stick in people’s minds, maybe for all the wrong reasons, but they’ll definitely remember your business.

However, always thoroughly think any marketing campaign through before embarking upon the controversial. There are hundreds of ways to freshen up your marketing and make it more interesting without going out of your way to offend and shock people. Try a play on words, speaking directly to your customer and using customer testimonials – these subtle changes can make more of a difference than you may think.

So safe or controversial – how do you like your marketing?