For the Clicks: A Closer Look at Shock-Value Marketing

Novelty marketing has seen an uptick over the past few years. Unusual product offerings and spokespeople have popped up more frequently, ranging from Peeps-textured nail polish to Odd Couple-type pairings of celebrities and products. Perhaps the tactic’s best and most long-lasting example is the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile, but other brands have tried various unexpected campaigns to increase their relevance and reach. Ultimately, whether a shock-value campaign is beneficial for a brand greatly depends on their approach — and their understanding of their existing audience. 

Many examples of novelty and shock-value marketing rely on creating unique, often limited-time products, such as allergy company Astepro’s creation of a limited-edition eau de toilette, only available via a sweepstakes. While some brands have seen longer-term success from these efforts, that kind of sustained, positive effect can be difficult to achieve. Instead, brands sometimes use the uniqueness or strangeness of a product to garner media attention and a short-term boost to impressions and engagement. Products that are intentionally produced at a small scale but have an equally small advertising campaign behind them can grab headlines, but may feel shallow to consumers, and will disappear rapidly from the zeitgeist. 

Brands have recently also taken to pairing their products with unexpected spokespeople — from smaller influencers to full-blown A-listers — in order to broaden their audiences. A successful example is the recent Tito’s collaboration with Martha Stewart. Tito’s has a history of creative marketing, and tapping Stewart to specifically promote their product during Dry January initially seemed like an odd choice. However, Tito’s understood that while vodka itself may not be associated with the same audience as that of Stewart, there is an overlapping appreciation for high-quality products that resonated with a broader public.  

Another aspect of novelty marketing for brands to consider is their industry. For example, the brands that are most likely to see positive results from shock-value are those that are generally consumer-facing. Other industries that rely on their customers’ trust for success can experience backlash if a campaign isn’t well-received (or even well-perceived). 

In order to maximize the potential of this kind of marketing, brands must be strategic in their approach, and consider the way a campaign will be layered across channels. This not only requires a deep knowledge of existing audiences, but also the best extensions for the campaign itself. Limited-time offers and collaborations are best served when brands consider the communities that surround and support them. A fanbase that exclusively exists on social media may not respond as well to a traditional broadcast campaign, simply because they are less likely to see it. Not all extensions will work for all campaigns, but being smart about where and when you utilize these tools can result in a significant impact. 

In order to have long-term success, brands can use the moments these campaigns create as an intentional catalyst for something more meaningful. By evaluating the goals of a shocking campaign from a broader lens, they can take advantage of a short-lived spotlight and transform it into long-term momentum. While novelty and shock-value marketing is not a sustainable tactic over time, it can have meaningful, positive results for brands who approach it with a sound strategy and comprehensive understanding of their audience.

Laura Emanuel

Laura Emanuel is Managing Director of Red Thread PR, Brownstein’s PR specialty agency. As agency leader, Laura’s is responsible for the operations and management of 20+ team members, strategic campaign planning for global and regional brands and business development. She is entrenched in several Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 brands and brings deep media expertise across healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, tech, hospitality, commercial real estate and architecture. In 2019, Laura saw the team to its most notable recognition when PR News named it a “Small PR Agency of the Year” finalist. Under Laura’s leadership, the team also cracked the top 100 shops in the U.S. according to O’Dwyer’s. With Brownstein Group for 15 years, Laura established Red Thread PR in 2022 in response to a growing need for more dynamic PR specialists who understand how to connect Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned channels. Laura graduated Summa Cum Laude from Cabrini University with a BA in mass communication and concentration in journalism. Laura holds her APR certification through the Public Relations Society of America. Laura is passionate about making healthy lifestyles accessible for all communities, proudly serves on the board of Vetri Community Partnership and consults with Girls on the Run Philadelphia. When she’s not making headlines for her clients, you can catch Laura sweating it out on Peloton or chasing her pup, Romeo.