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How Can I Create Content That Is Controversial And Thought Provoking?

When used correctly, controversial content can be an incredibly powerful tool. Controversy garners a huge reaction because it triggers an emotional response that people want to share with others.

It generates curiosity, sparks the interest of new audiences and encourages people to share their own opinion. In this article, we’re sharing our top tips for creating controversial and thought-provoking content.

Why Is Controversial Content Beneficial?

When it comes to your business, creating controversial content can be extremely impactful. A good piece of thought-provoking content, be it an article, social media campaign or YouTube video, can lead to a significant increase in:

  • Comments, likes and shares
  • Number of people and publications linking to your content
  • Traffic to your website.

Controversial content can also alter the way the public perceives your brand. Opinionated content often strikes a chord with people for one of two reasons… It either aligns with their beliefs and opinion on the topic or it encourages them to consider a different perspective.

There is a third reason that we mustn’t leave out… controversial content might just p*ss people off. But that’s not the kind of content you want to be making. Or maybe you do, who knows? It’s worked for Ryanair!

An Example Of Controversy Done Well: KFC  – FCK Campaign

In 2018, KFC had to temporarily close hundreds of its UK stores due to an unprecedented chicken shortage. Along with a significant decline in sales and turnover, the fried chicken giant was faced with an avalanche of negative press surrounding the closures.

In a daring attempt to apologise to the public and boost their image, KFC published a full-page ad in national newspapers displaying an empty KFC bucket with the three infamous letters changed from “KFC” to “FCK”. Below the image was a concise and to-the-point apology.

The ad was simple yet ingenious, reaching more than 53,000 mentions across social media platforms in one day alone. Related hashtags started to trend across the web and the ad resulted in more than 700 press articles and TV discussions. Within the months that followed, the campaign had reached more than 1 billion people.

There are several ways to measure the impact of KFC’s clever ad, including the YouGov consumer brand impression score, which started to steadily recover and increase following the ad.

How Do I Create Controversial Content?

Experimenting with controversial content allows you to stray from run-of-the-mill pieces whilst providing a chance to up your website traffic and increase brand engagement. But crafting controversial content that achieves your goal isn’t always easy. Here are our top tips:

Choose A Hot Topic That Is Of Interest To Your Readers

The purpose of all content is to provide a target audience with something valuable. And the same goes for controversial content. Jumping on the back of a trending topic with a fresh perspective isn’t always enough. You need to choose a hot topic that your readers and your target audience are actually interested in.

For example, the simultaneous release of the juxtaposing Barbie and Oppenheimer movies has dominated the web in the past month. From major online news publications to social media platforms, “Barbenheimer” is all anyone can talk about following the box office success of both movies.

As a digital marketing agency that curates useful content for fellow marketers and business owners, we could jump on the Barbenheimer trend and share our own opinions of these two spectacular movies. But is that really what our audience is looking for? Do they care that I thought Ryan Gosling deserves an Oscar for his dance moves alone? No. Probably not.

We could, however, create an article with a fresh take on the outstanding Barbie marketing campaign that has led to a whole new generation of Barbie hysteria. With the movie covering topics such as feminism, sexism and equal rights, it wouldn’t be too challenging to come up with something controversial if we put our minds to it (quickly adds idea to notebook).

Stick To The Facts

If you are creating content designed for the masses, there is no room for error. When creating controversial content, you want people to be talking about your content because it is thought-provoking, not because it is factually incorrect.

So, always use reliable sources when stating facts or sharing statistics. When linking out to sources, ensure they are credible (and familiar, where possible).

…But Add Your Own Perspective

Controversial content should never be created with the intention of proving a point or adding to your own personal agenda. But as an expert on the topic, you should certainly outline your own perspective, especially if it is a unique and stimulating perspective.

The reader may disagree wholeheartedly (which is absolutely OK!), or they may appreciate the fresh take on the topic. Your perspective may even help them draw a conclusion on what they really think about the topic in question.

Tell All Sides Of The Story

Content that only tells one side of the story usually comes across as biased, untrustworthy and inauthentic. Not only will it tank, but your readers won’t bother coming back for more.

When creating controversial content, it is important that you are telling all sides of the story and providing the reader with all viewpoints. This will give the viewer the perspective they need to form their own opinion on the topic.

Provoke Thought Without Offending

Offensive content is usually controversial, but never for the right reasons. Many brands try to add “shock value” to their content, only for it to backfire due to being offensive. If you want to maintain a positive brand image, it is crucial that you are not intentionally or accidentally offending people.

Examples of controversial content that didn’t quite hit the mark are easy to find.

For example, in 2021, Burger King came under fire for their “Women belong in the kitchen.” tweet. The statement, posted on International Women’s Day, was supposed to be a humorous and eye-catching introduction to the company’s campaign for a new scholarship programme aiming to help more females into chef positions.

However, the tweet fell flat, with the follow-up tweets not gaining as much traction as the marketing team had hoped. Burger King had to remove the tweet hours later following a huge backlash, with the head of marketing claiming that the meaning behind the tweet had been “lost in translation”.

Encourage Discussion…And Anticipate All Kinds Of Reactions

That Burger King PR disaster leads us nicely on to our final tip for creating controversial content… always create content that encourages discussion (albeit without the blatant sexism).

With discussion comes shares, comments, links and even mentions from large online publications. Of course, with anything controversial, there is always the risk that someone is going to react negatively. Even if your content isn’t offensive or particularly shocking, it can still rub people up the wrong way.

The key is to anticipate all kinds of reactions and plan how you will respond to them once they start rolling in. Ensure your whole team is on the same page so that the company’s response is consistent.

Need Help Creating Content?

If you would like a hand creating content (controversial or not), GrowTraffic can help! We are an award-winning digital marketing agency offering a wide range of tailor-made marketing services to businesses of all sizes.

Want to know more? Get in touch with our team. You can reach us by calling 0161 706 0012 or emailing

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