YouTube has published its list of the most-watched adverts in the UK last year, with Sainsbury’s controversial ad based around the Christmas Day 1914 truce between British and German soldiers coming out on top, ahead of the rival and much-hyped festive offering from John Lewis.
Sainsbury’s advert drew criticism for exploiting the horror of the First World War to sell more stuff at Christmas, and caused more than 700 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. However the campaign was also praised as “poignant” by the Royal British Legion, which received the proceeds of all sales of the chocolate bar shared between a British and a German soldier in the advert.
Whatever your opinion of the advert (and I must admit I thought it was some kind of horrendous joke gone wrong the first time I saw it), the fact that millions of people deliberately went to YouTube to watch it, rather than passively letting it wash over them during a TV ad break, shows the power of controversy in both creating interesting content and attracting viewers to your material.
Supporting the military has become a popular marketing tie-up in recent years (see also the Bell’s whisky campaign with Help for Heroes and Diageo’s revival of a free tot of rum (in this case Captain Morgan’s) for members of the Royal Navy). The ‘backing British values’ connotation of this may not be relevant to your brand or business, but linking up with a cause which rouses strong feelings is one starting point for creating interesting and thought-provoking content.