Controversial Product Marketing: 6 Ideas for Success

category marketing

When it comes to product marketing, you can choose a variety of advertising tactics to entice new customers to buy and keep current ones coming back for more. Check out the image below with ideas of how product marketing varies based on product category, strategy, and messaging goals. Missing from the diagram is controversial product marketing.

Selling products in a regular market is challenging enough, but when you’re trying to market what many consider a controversial product, you face additional challenges and regulations. If you love a good challenge and are ready to jump in head-first, here are 6 topics to help you with controversial product marketing.

controversial product marketing

Controversial product marketing issues

When we talk about controversial product marketing we don’t mean to imply these products are illegal. We would never touch on marketing those products. Rather, we’re talking about products some might find unsavory, such as alcohol, tobacco, and birth control. Even advertising and marketing prescription drugs are controversial, even though such marketing is legal all over the world and advertising prescription drugs are legal in several countries.

Controversial product marketing includes newly legalized products, such as marijuana. The question remains of how to market these products in a manner that fits societal norms while effectively attracting the desired target market.

But, just because some view certain products as controversial doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t market them. However, you must be sensitive to the view of others and respectful of their views about your brand.

Below, you can read 6 tactics used for controversial product marketing.

1. Know the regulations

Before marketing any item that people find questionable, whether it’s a CBD oil product or an alcoholic beverage, you must research the laws or regulations in place regarding this specific merchandise. You can’t advertise many products advertised in certain types of publications, on TV, or on the radio. You can’t advertise or sell other products in certain locations, such as near schools. For instance, you can’t promote cigarettes using sponsorships or free samples. You also need to investigate the rules regarding promotion via social media. And, condom ads are heavily regulated, as well, in part to protect young people from a topic they’re not ready for.

Legalized marijuana states face challenges in enacting and enforcing regulations covering controversial product marketing and promotions. For instance, California forces buyers 21 and over to pay cash for marijuana bought legally in dispensaries, controls who can grow the product, and where it is sold. The state still struggles to control second-hand smoke from Cannabis, despite laws to contain the smoke. To avoid provoking opponents further, a new restaurant opening as an upscale Cannabis-friendly environment, installed special scrubbers to contain smoke and avoid antagonizing neighbors and passers-by.

These laws vary dramatically from state to state since federal law still identifies marijuana possession (and sale) as illegal.

Know the regulations for your type of product, which gives you the foundation to create your campaign and prevent you from incurring fines. Also, avoiding efforts to control the promotion of your product creates a poor image of your brand and begs negative media attention.

2. Understand your product

When you have a thorough understanding of the product you’re promoting, you can sell almost anything. When it’s a controversial item, haters come out of the woodwork. Your best defense is to know your product like the back of your hand. Understand exactly how it’s used, what it’s made from, and any science that backs up your claims regarding the product’s health benefits (such as CBD for pain relief and anxiety reduction. You should also have this information readily available to anyone skeptical of your claims.

Further, recognize the controversial product marketing isn’t easy. Some products, such as alcohol, openly recognize the potential for abusing their product and spend a substantial effort to reduce abuse. Many alcohol producers state clearly that users should enjoy their products responsively, such as the commercial below.

3. Find the right market

Any product for sale has a main target market and before initiating a marketing campaign, you need to know exactly who your market is, what features/ benefits motivate purchase, what messages they respond to, and where you can reach them. Marketing controversial products are no different in terms of building a deep understanding of your target market.

Research basic information such as demographics, customer lifestyle, and how your product fits into a potential customer’s life. Another way to gauge an item’s audience is to check out the competition’s marketing and their marketing efforts. If the controversial product marketing they use works, it might also work for you with a few tweaks. Find out what this market likes about your competitor and where they’ve fallen short. Then pick up the slack and offer something that other brands can’t.

4. Know your customers

With controversial products, you’re limited to where, when, and how you can market. Therefore, one of the most effective ways to reach your customers is by creating an email list. When contacting your customers via email, use a program that addresses them by their name on all correspondence. More important, always use personalization whenever possible, as deep personalization results in returns as high as 4400%.

utilizing marketing automationGetting to know your customers also gives you an idea of what they like and how to use that in future campaigns. For example, hiring an influencer that your customers look up to is an extremely creative way to market your product.

5. Use tasteful humor

When you’re marketing an item that some people may find offensive, it helps to know what tone to use. If done correctly, using humor to advertise can remove any stigma around a product and tear down walls of misconception. Using a well-placed one-liner can grab the attention of your target market and spark curiosity in others. However, you must use humor good taste and not in an insulting way or you’ll risk destroying your brand.

Of course, that’s great advice for any product, whether you’re talking about controversial product marketing or not. Any advertising can generate controversy that damages your reputation, such as the one below from Asus Computer.

sexism on social networks

6. Get people talking

Controversy isn’t always bad and if it’s used well, it can really get people talking about your product. If your goods are already controversial, you can use that to your advantage if you pull it off without going too far. Controversial ads shouldn’t take sides but instead, bring up an issue that gets people thinking about it in another way. If you use your ad to stand up for your company’s values or cause, people may begin to see your product in a more favorable light.


Controversial products are more difficult to market than regular items, but they still deserve their rightful place. By identifying your audience, getting to know them, and thoroughly understanding your product, you’ll earn new business while boosting your product’s reputation.

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