Provocative advertising can be risky

This week, all hell has broken loose in England over a simple TV commercial. Okay, that might be a little overstated, but there’s certainly been controversy.  The ad has had over 350 000 online views in a week, and I thought you might like to see it too.

It’s a case study in how advertising for a brand that’s often taken for granted can provoke strong emotional responses. But that doesn’t mean they’re all positive.

Research showed that while most Brits have Marmite in their kitchen cupboards, many of them hadn’t opened the jar in the last three months. So they created this ad featuring a special rescue unit for neglected Marmite jars.

But it seems a sizeable portion of the dog-loving Brits have lost their sense of humour. The British Advertising Standards Authority has received roughly 400 complaints and detractors deride the TV commercial for being “deeply offensive” and “trivialising the neglect of children and animals”. Marketing Week’s online poll showed that 14.1% of respondents hated the ad.

On the other hand, 85.5% loved it. As a marketer, I have to like the odds. If only 0.1% were unmoved by the ad, they’ve done something right. And since Marmite’s pay-off line is “Love it or hate it”, the response certainly aligns with the brand positioning.

What you do think?

Would you risk offending 14% of your target market if it meant that everyone else thought the ad was great?

I may have a warped sense of humour, but I love the ad.  And I believe it will work for Marmite.  Love it or hate it, no-one is ignoring it.


  1. Fiona Ingram on August 15, 2013 at 10:03

    How can people be upset by these ads? Where has the great British sense of humour gone? I loved the ads, even though (confession) I prefer Bovril…

  2. Della Stofberg on August 15, 2013 at 08:34

    Brilliant! This typical South African humour will create a lot of talkability for the brand. I dont find it offensive, but I can understand why some animal lovers may.

  3. Jacques on August 14, 2013 at 17:06

    Sorry, Ann, I think I should have waited for the programme to respond.

    • Ann Druce on August 14, 2013 at 17:45

      Tsjoe! it shouldn’t take that long. I think I’d better get the techies to have a look at this!

  4. Jacques on August 14, 2013 at 17:05

    I suggest you change the response part of the programme to clearly send a message: Thanks, your comment has been submitted, or something of that nature. If the writer of the comment is at the bottom of the page, he or she cannot see that the comment has been posted above the top of the screen – and consequently presses send again, after which he or she receives a snotty response that he or she has already said that – I think you can remove that kind of irritation from the page. Well-meant!

  5. Jacques on August 14, 2013 at 17:01

    Ann, I am just testing to see if the programme tells me that my comments have been sent – so this is why I am writing all these words and hope they will be accepted as a message

  6. Jacques on August 14, 2013 at 16:51

    I love the ad–fabulous humour. If some people complain, then the ad will sell by another fantastic method–irritation! Fabulously tongue in the cheek!

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