Start-ups have been told to be wary of stunt marketing techniques after Cotton On provoked negative media coverage for the colourful language used on its Christmas cards.
Jo Macdermott, founder and director of Next Marketing, says start-ups who engage in stunt marketing must be prepared for a backlash against their brand.
Get daily business news.
The latest stories, funding information, and expert advice. Free to sign up.
Her comments come in response to a Cotton On marketing stunt, with the retail clothing chain in hot water over a range of Christmas cards featuring swearwords.
The cards, which feature slogans including “Merry F—ing Christmas and “Happy Christmas D—head”, are being sold as part of Cotton On’s Typo stationery range. Wrapping paper emblazoned with similar slogans is also available.
Religious leaders have described the cards as “exceptionally gross and offensive”, but Cotton On’s buying and production manager Julie Christy has defended the cards, labelling them a bestseller.
“The cards aren’t derogatory, they don’t promote violence or ill-feeling, and they’re targeted at younger customers who have a different attitude,” she said.
Deakin University marketing expert Dr Paul Harrison says the cards are probably being sold to fill a gap in the market and are a reflection of today’s society.
“I personally think the idea is quite offensive, but it doesn’t surprise me that people will buy these cards because Cotton On is targeting a different audience,” he says.
Macdermott says Cotton On has a history of being a bit controversial with its products so she’s also unsurprised by the nature of the cards.
“It’s part of their brand identity, which primarily appeals to the tween and teen markets. Whether or not [stunt marketing] is a smart move for a start-up is questionable,” she says.
“If, for example, you have a brand of T-shirts featuring bold statements, pulling a marketing stunt to get publicity might be a smart, strategic move.”
“But if you’re a consultant and you want to be taken seriously by the corporate market, I wouldn’t recommend that sort of marketing. I think it’s better suited to retail and could see other brands doing it as well.”
“There is a market for quirky things… It might be quite appropriate for a small business to do it but how far you take it is a calculated risk. There’s a fine line between cheeky and crass.”
“If you’re just starting up with no real budget and your marketing stunt goes pear-shaped, is it worth it?”
Macdermott’s says when it comes to stunt marketing to ensure it aligns with your brand strategy and prepare yourself for a possible backlash against your brand and be ready to justify your approach.