Controversy as many slogan makers have discovered can be a double-edged sword. Controversial taglines can attract attention and generate publicity, so in a way, they serve as free advertising. Unfortunately controversial catchphrases can offend and even drive away potential customers.

The most important thing to keep in mind when using a controversial tagline is the context in which it is going to be used. A slogan maker should ask how the phrase is going to be used and what is supposed to be achieved with it. If all somebody wants to do is to attract attention then a controversial tagline can achieve that goal.

Politicians often use or publicize controversial or inflammatory taglines simply because they want to attract attention. Remember George W. Bush’s “if you’re not with us you’re against us.” It is unclear if the former president actually meant that or not but it certainly stirred up debate and brought attention to Mr. Bush.

Controversial taglines can also be very effective if a slogan maker is attempting to appeal to emotion or sentiment as politicians often do. They can sometimes work for a business as Wendy’s legendary “Where’s the Beef?” campaign demonstrated. The emotion the hamburger franchise was trying to appeal to in that case was humor……but it worked. The humor distracted observers from the controversial allegation that Wendy’s competitors were not using real beef in their burgers.

When Controversy Works and When it Does Not

“Where’s the Beef” was an effective slogan because it appealed to humor. Humor is a positive emotion and brings ‘feel good’ emotions from the audience.

Controversy that stirs up negative emotions can achieve the completely opposite result. It can turn people off and drive them away. An example of this is a slogan for the Triumph TR 7 sports car: “It doesn’t look like you can afford it.” The problem with this wording is that it tells potential customers you cannot afford this car. Even worse, it reminds them how poor or unsuccessful they are. A sports car ad is supposed to evoke pleasure not remind a person what they can’t have.

Many attempts to use controversy to generate humor end up creating negativity instead. Instead of creating catchy slogans, businesses get phrases designed to drive customer away. Take this ad for Lea & Perrins steak sauce: “A steak sauce that only a cow could hate.” The problem with this is that it raises the philosophical and political arguments over eating meat. It also reminds diners that they are eating meat that came from a living animal namely a cow. Instead of humor the words create controversy that may turn off people that see them.

Part of the problem with the Lea & Perrins tagline is that it raises issues that distract people from the product namely steak sauce. It brings up a philosophical argument that has absolutely no place in an advertisement for a simple condiment.

Controversy is something that you should be real careful with when you use an advertising slogan generator. Yes it can generate a lot of free publicity but it can also drive customers away or confuse them.