Kings of Controversy


It’s not uncommon for brands to get themselves into hot water from time to time, whether it be through comments on social media or more recently, around the issue of privacy (ahem, Facebook). We thought we’d take a look at some recent controversial campaigns.

H&M received backlash earlier this year after using this photo on their website, which resulted in them losing one of their biggest influencers, ‘The Weeknd’. There was controversy in itself as to whether their error was intentional or a complete oversight. H&M released this statement apologising for the offence caused, but this did little to help and resulted in consumers ransacking their stores and boycotting the brand. H&M have done very little since, with many people forgetting the controversy, however the brand has been struggling and this definitely did not help. Would a more structured comeback campaign have helped their audience believe in the brand again?


Lush has ethics at the heart of its brand, but they are no stranger to controversial campaigns. Lush were forced to scrap their most recent campaign, #SpyCops, which highlighted the undercover policing inquiry, which led to ex-police officers intimidating some of their staff. The campaign came under fire for a number of reasons, including a lack of relevance to Lush’s industry and because it also came across as both anti-state and anti-policing. Lush stuck to their guns, their Public Relations rep Eva Cook saying: “As a global campaigning company, we believe in using our voices, shops and online presence to bring awareness and support to a variety of issues, some of which vary regionally.”

Furthermore, Lush and Cancer Research did very similar campaigns targeting obesity, which were both hit hard with claims of “fat shaming”. Cancer Research stood by their campaign, releasing a statement claiming their ads were not about fat shaming, but designed to raise awareness of the links between cancer and obesity, something they felt was their duty to inform the public and government about. Lush, however, apologised for their campaign with a social media post from their Ethics Director, claiming they had shamed themselves (full apology here).

Both the obesity and #SpyCops campaigns could be considered a success despite the backlash. The main aims of each were around building awareness and because of the response, both campaigns received a larger reach than they otherwise might have.


Most recently Nike came out with a controversial campaign for their 30th anniversary by using Colin Kaepernick, who is best known for being an American Footballer. Kaepernick refused to stand for the American National Anthem because of racial injustice issues. Since this happened he hasn’t been signed for a club and has caused mass anger.

Nike’s campaign caused outrage for many, leading people to burn their Nike branded products, plus their share price dropping by more than 3 percent. The ad even received a comment from the one and only Donald Trump, saying it sends a “terrible message”. (But we think that’s a bit rich considering his daily Twitter antics.)

However, many took to the campaign – both the public and sporting icons alike. Serena Williams tweeted her support on the day of the launch, stating she was “especially proud to be part of the Nike family today”. Interestingly, Nike’s share price and sales then rocketed to higher than they had been pre-campaign, with their target audience of males aged 18-34 buying more products than they previously would.

Whilst Nike might have alienated an older audience, brand awareness within their target reach seems only to have been impacted positively.

Whilst all campaigns reached a massive audience, the response to the issues were all very different, some being effective and others less so. Nike appear to have owned their campaign and are letting it speak for themselves so far, while both Lush and H&M apologised for their actions, and Cancer Research did a bit of both. But is there a ‘right’ way to respond to controversy?

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