Controversial Advertisements in the UK Fashion Market

Subject: Entertainment & Media
Pages: 34
Words: 9133
Reading time:
31 min
Study level: College


Advertising has been described as a form of communication that persuades or seeks to convince consumers to make a buying decision on a particular product (Rosselline 125). Producers and manufacturers have used language to convince their target audience to prefer their products as opposed to other competing and substitute products. Sometimes the language used by advertisers does not give the real facts and the true image of the product being advertised. The central goal of advertisers is only to give one side of the story without considering the other side of the story that would be beneficial to consumers. The central aim of marketers and advertisers is to increase sales (Triff 61). This leads to the use of skewed persuasive language whose aim is not to provide the information to the consumers but to convince them to buy the targeted products. Advertising has managed to shape buying trends (O’Shaughnessy and O’Shaughnessy 7). Advertising is a technique that has many objectives: among them to remind consumers of products they have used before and convince new consumers to shift allegiance from their traditional brands to the brand being advertised. Advertising has endeavored to shape consumers’ behavior (Hill and Gareth 47).

According to the University of Southern California article, consumer behavior can be described as the ‘psychological process that consumers go through in recognizing needs, finding ways to solve these needs, and making a purchase decision. Many aspects ranging from sociological factors, psychological factors, and economic issues shape consumer behavior. Advertisers keep clients informed of their products using different media like television, radio, Internet, and magazines (Triff 61). The advertising message is shaped with consumer needs in mind. Advertising can also be controversial. Some companies have designed adverts that are offensive such as using underage children, using sexually suggestive materials or diagrams, or even beer adverts that purport to be energy drinks. While some companies have carried controversial advertising successively, others have suffered losses due to the controversial advertising (Tellis 17).

This has been the case for companies that have controversial products and must inform their clients about such products. These products could range from gender-based products and also reproductive products. However, other products like underwear have also fallen under the category that is considered controversial in its advertising (Hansen and Christensen 427). While a company has control of the message they pass across, they have no control of who receives the message. It becomes therefore apparent that the message could easily land in the wrong quarters (Dahl 288). Advertising a product can be offensive to the client especially when the message has sexually suggestive materials and the advert is carried out during a prime time when family members are either gathered listening to a radio or watching television (Rosselline 127). Some products like condoms, underwear, and women’s nightwear have been seen as having explicit sexual connotations in their advertisements. This leads to consumers being offended by controversial advertising.

The controversial advertisement would then have the opposite effect. Rather than persuading consumers to make a buying decision, most of them will be offended by the advert and end up detesting the product (Lester 69). Controversial advertising can either be effective or damaging depending on the audience and their social standing and the morals the advert engages with its clients (Clow and Baack 315). Clothing industries have been blamed for using child pornographic images in advertising their products. Manufacturers of underwear have been blamed for running sexually explicit adverts on public media (Sheehan 79). Instead of being embraced by the target consumer base, the sales are damaged due to the offending message. Controversial advertising would lead to a boycott of products, complaints from the advertising regulatory bodies, low sales, and negative publicity (Shao 20).

Advertisers have the prerogative of determining which section of the clients would be offended by their advertising messages especially when dealing with controversial products (Aaker 50). This will enable the company to reshape the message accordingly to prevent low sales occasioned not by the quality of the product but by offending advert messages. Though companies in a free market economy are free to take a stand on either their product or the message, they have a social responsibility not to offend their clients through such messages. Advertising is one of the attributes of a marketing mix geared at enhancing sales by informing its customers of the benefits of the products while at the same time seeking to convince new customers into making a buying decision. It is therefore unfortunate that offending messages may end up achieving the negative effect of boosting sales. Commercial advertising seeks to increase the consumption of their products (Clow and Baack 317). Every company has a prime objective of maximizing its profits. It is therefore imperative for companies to seek ways that would boost their sales. Advertising can inform and persuade people to make a buying decision, hence boosting sales.

Advertisements increase consumers’ engagement with the product as well as influence the attitude towards the products. The advertisements are meant to convince the customers that the product has their best interest at heart (Frith, and Mueller 225). In a market that has many substitutes and competing products, no company would risk losing its customers. Indeed, many companies seek to entice consumers of other products from shifting their allegiance to their products. Consumers must be convinced that their needs will be addressed by the products the advertisers are putting across (Sheehan 79). Striking the chord of needs of potential customers, the advertising message must be tailored to meet their needs without offending them with controversial messages. The fashion design industry is lucrative across the world. Many fashion designers spend most of their time thinking of how to change apparel to reflect the tastes and expectations of the young generation. The fashion industry is ideally steered by the tastes and preferences of young people. This is the group that is more affluent in spending on new fashion (Frith and Mueller 225). This has both psychological and social effects. People who wear particular types of clothes are associated with a particular social class. In the endeavor to define their identity, young people always adopt particular designs. It is odd to find a young person taking pride in the design of clothes of their preceding generation. They will always try to define their identity with a particular fashion trend.

Fashion has been one of the most dynamic industries in the world. Each generation comes with its fashion and accompanying cultural practices (Sheehan 79). The change of taste and integration of cultures has liquidated the fashion industry to reflect the trends of the contemporary population. According to Perner (24), people from one region have endeavored to copy fashion from other regions. However, fashion designers have not been to amalgamate into a universal fashion trend. Fashion defines to a big extent the inherent culture of the people using the fashion (Shao 20). For instance, Nigerians and other people from West Africa wear African Kitenge, their counterparts in the UK wear suits, natives of Arabic countries find it appropriate to wear the hijab and overflowing gowns while people in the US find easier to adorn jeans and t-shirts. Though these are fashion designs that can be identified with particular regions, people have integrated to accept wearing a tie and a pair of suits as the official attire across the world. In the UK, fashion has not been static either. People, especially women are grappling with changing trends of fashion. As an art, the design of fashion has been more individualized to reflect wear for different occasions (MacRury 313). For instance, there is the accepted dress for night outings, swimming costumes, sportswear, women lingerie, office wear, and many more. Originality has been touted as the guiding factor by designers, out to make an impact in the industry.

Fashion events are held frequently, where fashion designers from different parts of the world come together to compare their fashion designs. The UK has traditionally embraced smart design but recently has infused designs from other regions (Fahy et al 65). Development of fashion in the country is the integration of old fashion with few alterations to make them more appealing to the young generation. It is young people who drive the fashion industry. Beauty models are used to market different fashions. Young people easily identify with these young models and therefore making it possible to entice them with increased sales on new fashion designs. According to Perner (26), different governments support the industry as fashion designs can be used to identity natives and branding of a particular country. Indeed fashion has become a marketing strategy for many governments. In trying to woo more customers, fashion designers have used controversial adverts in convincing young clientele to make a buying decision.

Benefits and disadvantages of controversial advertising

Controversial advertising has intrigued both psychologists and marketers for a long time. The technique that has been employed by Gucci, Tom Ford, and Dolce & Gabbana for some time can be said to have both negative and positive effects on the sales. However, the benefits of controversial advertising seem to outweigh its disadvantages keep going back to the techniques. Controversial advertisements have achieved their goal of creating awareness of a product as people continue to talk about the ad but in extension making the product popular. This creates unusual positive attention to the advert. Secondly, increased awareness about a product due to the strangeness of adverts increase sales (Jansson 112). The central aim of any company is to increase sales. Using these controversial adverts, Gucci, Tom Ford, and Dolce & Gabbana have increased their sales hence the growth of the industry.

Thirdly, the three companies have projected an image of airing controversial adverts. Being unique and controversial makes the company more talked about than one that airs morally acceptable materials. Usual things can time be boring. Familiarity may end up causing a drop in sales. However, controversial adverts keep consumers talking about the brand and hence increase popularity. Fourthly, controversial advertising creates a buzz in social networks and hence people continue to talk about the products even when they do not approve of the advert (Marconi 107). In essence, this technique seems to have worked for the three fashion companies in focus under this research. However, there are instances when controversial advertising can lead to a fall in sales. If consumers feel that the advert has racial or religious stereotypes, it can easily be boycotted by a section of consumers (O’Shaughnessy and O’Shaughnessy 8). This would affect sales. These adverts may cause negative attention to the target audience, especially where the connotations of the adverts and the sexually explicit materials have no relation.

This research seeks to evaluate controversial advertising from three major British fashion industry players: Gucci, Tom Ford, and D&G (Dolce and Gabbana). Gucci is one of the world’s leading Italian Fashion Company dealing with the latest fashions and leather collections. Formed in the 1920s, the company specialized in leather products targeting the feminine gender. However, the company came into controversy with its customers and advertising agencies after running an advert where a lady pulled down her snickers to show her pubic hair shaved in the famous Gucci logo of double GG. According to the Guardian story, the advert that was run in 2003 was condemned across the world as being too offensive and sexually suggestive. This was offensive to many parents as the advert could be easily accessed by underage children who were legally protected from being exposed to sexually suggestive and offensive materials. On their part, Dolce and Gabbana were criticized and condemned by the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in 2007 for an advertising campaign that showed models brandishing knives.

A company that deals with fragrances, luxury items such as sunglasses and watches, ran the offensive advert inviting the wrath of the media (Wels 35). In another offensive advert ran by the same company in France and Italy showed a half-naked man pinning a woman to the ground by her wrists while other men cheered. Italian advertising agency complained that the advert was demeaning and humiliating to women, arguing that the picture did not have any relations with the products the company was advertising. Tom Ford dealers in menswear released a series of controversial advertisements that were condemned by the media and classified as being examples of explicit nudity (Fam 117). In one of the many adverts, a man appears with a bottle of beer and cigar held in his left while a nude woman clasps his crotch. Indeed, the man appears to be in great pain as the woman seems to enjoy the action. Then there was another advertisement where a young woman is photographed in what appeared to be having sex with a scorpion. These were among many offensive adverts that were criticized for appearing in public. It was the sexual exposure nature that made many parents view the adverts as being offensive and unfit for young children.

The research paper will help marketers in identifying what are the effects of controversial adverts and how they can be prevented. The study will also show how the attitudes of potential consumers are affected by controversial adverts that offend the listeners, viewers, or readers. The research will help to show that controversial adverts end up achieving the opposing effect of boosting sales at times occasioning boycott of products.

​PESTLE Analysis

In a free-market economy like the UK, companies strive to outdo each other in marketing and increase sales as they scramble for customers. Gucci, Tom Ford, and Dolce & Gabbana trade in similar products and therefore share the clientele and similar marketing techniques. None of the companies would want to offend their clients with offensive messages. However, in trying to be unique they have often relayed advertising messages that have been considered to be offensive.

A company does not exist in isolation but in relation to the political, economic, and social environment. UK government policies affect not only the operations of the fashion companies but also their profit margins. Through the British Advertising Standards Authority, offensive adverts are controlled. Tax policies affect the business environment of companies. To remain afloat a company must strive to maximize its profits while keeping costs at the lowest levels. Based on these and other factors managers must make decisions that define the path taken by fashion companies in the UK. Many factors in a company’s management affect decision making. These factors range from tax policies, legal barriers, demographic analysis, and government policies (Haberberg 235). To understand and analyze these factors, managers categorize these factors into the PESTLE model. PESTLE is an acronym of Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, and Environmental factors. In the fashion industry in the UK, these factors are considered to realize the objective of maximizing profits in a competitive business environment.

Political factors affect the future of companies. Without a stable political environment, a business cannot thrive. The government must provide a framework from which companies will thrive. For instance, the UK government sets terms of business like corporate taxes and procedures to attract more investors (Wels et al 36). Politics can affect the perception of customers upon a particular product. The UK has enjoyed a stable political environment for a long time and therefore has become a favorite with investors in the fashion industry. Sufficing to say that all the three companies have their roots in other countries but have established themselves in the UK.

Decisions made on the political front can affect the performance of either of the companies. Development of infrastructure in terms of road and rail system is the duty of the government but will determine the success of a particular company. In the fashion industry, the UK government provides an enabling environment for other supporting industries like the textile and an educated workforce that will be able to support the fashion industry (MacRury 313).

On the other hand, economic factors include interest rates, levels of inflation, rates of taxation, and foreign exchange rates. With low taxes, the UK government has managed to attract more investors. The fashion industry thrives on exported materials and therefore exchange rates can affect the performance of the business in a particular company. Indeed, high-interest rates on loans are deterrent to investors as it costs more to borrow money from local banks (Fahy et al 66). Also, the strong currency would make the exporting of apparel expensive. UK government has managed to keep inflation rates low while maintaining bank interest rates. Low bank interest rates ease access to capital for most companies in the UK.

Increased levels of inflation will cause the labor force to demand higher salaries and hence increasing the operating costs for the company (O’guinn et al 122). When the economy of a particular country is growing, its people have more disposable incomes and therefore they can make more purchases as opposed to when the economy is on a downturn.

Changes in social trends can affect how customers view products especially from such a dynamic industry like the fashion industry. For instance, fashion is popular with young people. The industry may suffer losses, as the average population of the UK is aging. There are more aged people as compared to the percentages in past years (Rehman and Brooks 78). Old people are more concerned about their health, accommodation, and medicine as opposed to what they are going to wear. This has also increased companies’ spending on pension remittances of their retired employees. Just like parts of the world, youth in the UK control the growth of the fashion industry.

Technological factors are essential in a dynamic industry like the fashion industry. After the launch of new designs and styles, the company must avail the information to its intended consumers at the earliest time due to the competitive nature of the industry. Most people in the UK have access to computers and the Internet. This makes it possible for adverts in a social network to reach the targeted group within a short time. With the increase in advancement in information technology advertisements are becoming real-time. Social networks also play a key role in reaching the intended target audience (Hackley 148). Investors in the fashion industry target the young generation. The use of this technology can also help in reducing the cost of advertising. Online shopping can also boost sales of items produced by fashion industries (Fill 39). Technology can reduce the cost of operation, enhance the quality of products, and ensure creativity and innovation of new fashions.

The fourth factor is environmental and fashion designers must be aware of the prevailing climatic and environmental factors. UK’s environmental authority requires that industries take responsibility for environmental conservation. All refuse releases in rivers must safe for aquatic life.

Fashion companies must be aware of the climatic changes. When it is approaching winter companies must shift their focus on heavier clothes as opposed to light clothes that are worn during winter. Changes in seasons can affect the number of sales made on apparel (Rehman and Brooks 78). On the other hand, climatic changes can as well affect the production of raw materials used in the industry. Most apparel industries use raw materials from cotton and silkworms. If there are adverse weather changes, the production of these raw materials would be affected. In as much as the company wants to maximize profits and minimize costs, it must be aware of how their operations affect the environment (Bryman 235).

The last factor is the legal issues. A company must be aware of the legal framework under which they operate in a particular country. For instance, the UK government prohibits companies from employing under-age children under the Factory Acts. Gucci, Tom Ford, and Dolce & Gabbana must avoid the temptation to use under-age children in the advertising. Additionally, some products are legally forbidden and banned from advertising in some countries. For instance, condoms and contraceptives are banned in Arabic countries and therefore it is incumbent of the company to understand the legal framework under which they would be operating before committing their money into those economies.

​Porter’s five forces

Porter’s five forces refer to issues that affect the competition of products in the market. These forces were listed as the threat from substitute products, threats from competitors, threats of new entrants into the market sector, the levels of bargaining power from suppliers, and the purchasing power of potential customers. The three companies in focus Tom Ford, Gucci, and Dolce, and Gabbana may face competition from other companies that make similar products. It is upon the companies to ensure that their products remain competitive and appealing to the consumers. Sustaining the market segment is vital for the survival of the company (Hill and Gareth 45). While there is no immediate threat of substitute products for clothing, the companies must be aware of substitute products especially in leather products where synthetic materials have a direct threat to the industry.

In a volatile industry like the fashion industry, many people are willing to try their luck in the industry and therefore increase competition in the market. When suppliers restrain from charging too much on the supplies to the company, then the return is likely to be higher. Supplies of raw materials like textiles, labor, and services should be kept at reasonable low prices so that the company can lower its operation cost. Just as the suppliers should keep their supplies at a low cost, consumers should also refrain from bargaining too much (Hill and Gareth 45). The high bargaining power of consumers puts pressure on the profits realized by a company.

​Company profile of Tom Ford, Gucci, and Dolce & Gabbana

Tom Ford, Dolce and Gabbana, and Gucci are companies that deal with similar kinds of fashion products. The three companies are specialists in luxury products targeting the high-end market. The trio has a similar nature of clientele and therefore employs similar business models in penetrating the market. The fashion industry has grown to become one of the largest industries in the world. For instance, in the UK the industry contributes almost $30million to the economy (Guardian, 2010). The industry though has not been without challenges. Due to its dynamic nature, companies must invest heavily in marketing communications and improvement of product quality. The industry must as well engage consumers on regular basis through frequent advertising modes. Keeping products in the minds of consumers enables it to remain popular to the consumers. There is an emotional attachment between the products by different companies and their targeted clientele. Gucci, Tom Ford, and Dolce & Gabbana provide their customers with unique products with easily identifiable features, besides the quality of products and outstanding advertising that keeps the customers talking about their products. According to Belch and Belch (2007) to market and promote a product to the high-market, the company requires inculcating a culture, feelings, and images that link the customer to the product. This is achieved using resolute marketing and advertising programs.

By buying fashion products consumers feel emotionally attached to the product. Gucci, Tom Ford, and Dolce & Gabbana target high-end markets whose level of satisfaction is guided by self-esteem and social satisfaction. High prices of the products not only give the companies high profits but also give the consumers a feeling of self-importance (Fill 41). These goods by the three companies are goods of ostentation whose value is measured by their pricing and rarity in the market. The success of Gucci, Tom Ford, and Dolce & Gabbana can be attributed to quality brands; enthusiastic advertising and well spread retail outlets.

Tom Ford

Tom Ford is an American brand launched by designer Tom Ford in 2005. Initially, Tom worked for Gucci as a creative director before transforming the company into a flourishing fashion powerhouse. Before Ford joined Gucci Company it nearly went bankrupt due to scandals. According to Tom Ford’s Controversial ad Part III (1), Ford redesigned Gucci products to reflect the demands of the market. With a marketing strategy that seemed controversial, Gucci products were again on the lips of many consumers. Soon in 1994, Hollywood stars and celebrities like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, and Julianne Moore were on stage wearing Ford designed apparels. In 1995, Gucci products sales jumped by 87 percent. Until his departure in 2004, Ford resuscitated the image of Gucci products with designs made of leather apparel. As the creative director, Ford designed most of Gucci’s sportswear, footwear, bags and accessories, luggage, and gifts.


Gucci is an Italian fashion design company that deals with high-end leather goods, clothing, and other fashion products. Frenchman Guccio Gucci in Florence, Italy launched the company. Gucci expanded the company by opening stores in Milan and Rome. As a family business ran together with his three sons, Gucci specialized in finely crafted leather products like handbags and shoes. The sale of Gucci products went up immediately after renowned movie stars were made to pose with the company’s clothing, accessories, and footwear for lifestyle magazines, and this together with sustained advertising, contributed immensely to the company’s reputation (Cozens 2). After the founder died in 1983, the company was hit by family wrangles that nearly crippled its operations. It was then in 1990 that the company hired Tom Ford to redeem the image of the company that had been tarnished by family squabbles.

Dolce & Gabbana

Dolce & Gabbana is an Italian luxury fashion house. The company was established in 1985 and specialized in luxury items. It was started by Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana in Milan. The company sells watches, sunglasses, corrective eyewear as well as clothing. D&G also has a set of fragrances for men and women. D&G fragrances, eyewear, and footwear are sold in many boutiques around the world. D&G products became famous with models and celebrities like Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida. Coupled with meticulous advertising, the company realized growth in its sales (Waller (a) 25). However, it is the controversial nature of the advertisements that kept people talking about the brands. The sexiness mixed with traditional elements was the style used in the menswear range and D&G design for women.

According to the Independent, both menswear and women’s wear lines have become among the leading bestsellers around the world and in the fashion industry. Confidence and expression of sexual clamor and sustained advertising have led the D&G products popular with the high-end market. The products have expanded beyond Italy and Europe which account for over 70 percent of the company’s business empire. The company has also opened retail outlets across other countries in the world such as Asia, and North America. D&G has also diversified its products to include beachwear, innerwear, home furnishings, and teen collections. Using advertising featuring models and celebrities like Mary J. Blige and Whitney Houston, the company has become a favorite with younger consumers. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the company maintained its hold on fun and sexy clothes.

​Consumer behavior Theory

Just like in Law of Demand, Consumer Behaviour Theory can be explained through the Law of Diminishing Utility where a consumer makes a buying decision after they are convinced that the product they are spending their money on is giving them the highest satisfaction (Dahl 287). Consumers want to maximize the utility of the products they purchase. As they compare different competing products, it becomes apparent that the choice would be determined by how well the manufacture can project the product as the best among competing brands (Aaker 50). This information about the brand can only be availed through advertising. Advertising is a process that is aimed at convincing the consumer that the product they are purchasing gives them the best utility and able to satisfy the needs of the consumer.

Through the conscious and unconscious belief that the product would satisfy their inherent needs, consumers are ready to spend their money on the product (Kotler 115). However, this belief is shaped by the information available to the consumer. Advertisers must strive to highlight the benefit the consumer will get from consuming the product. Consumers are aware of how much marginal utility they are likely to get from successive purchases. When a product is bought, the company making the product wants to retain the consumer through successive purchases (Mullen and Johnson 77).

This is how companies can maintain their sales. When a consumer is convinced that their needs were satisfied by a particular product, they are likely to speak well about the product to the immediate friends and members of their families. From Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, most luxury goods are consumed as a source of self-esteem. High-end spenders may not consider the price as the guiding factor when purchasing goods of ostentation, but the satisfaction they are likely to get from the consumption of the goods. There are two utility concepts in consumer behavior theory: cardinal utility and ordinal utility approach. Cardinal utility assumes that we can assign the utility of a product some values. For instance, a person using a leather belt from Gucci may derive 5 utils from the product; while the ordinal utility does not assign values but works with levels of preferences. For example, a consumer of one product will rate that product more highly than other competing products.

The consumer gets satisfaction from consumption of a particular product: total utility is the level of satisfaction a consumer gets from using a particular product, while the marginal utility is the satisfaction a consumer gets from consuming an additional unit of goods or service (Kotler 117). For instance, the use of sunglasses from Dolce & Gabbana would satisfy their consumers. However, at the same time, an additional pair will come with additional satisfaction due to the trust the consumer derived from the purchase of the first pair. Manufacturers must therefore make the benefits of the products to the consumers (Thorson and Duffy 55). Having requisite brand awareness guarantees that consumers will disseminate information about the brand. If the consumers were satisfied with the product they purchased, they are likely to buy other products from the same company. Creating awareness is the primary aim of advertising.

​Alternative evaluation of choices

When a consumer encounters a problem, they set on an effort to look for a solution. According to Belch and Belch (112), consumers undertake an internal search for a solution and then shifts the focus on external possible solutions. External information can be accessed from friends (public sources), memory (personal experience), or advertisements. An internal search of information is guided by perceptions. Perception is defined as, ‘the process by which an individual receives, selects, organizes, and interprets information to create a meaningful picture of the world (Belch and Belch 112). Due to selective exposure (consumers choose which messages they like and pay attention to them) and selective retention (where consumer remember messages, which they think, are important in their lives), advertisers should package the message in such a way that it will interest the targeted consumer base. The medium through which the advertisement message is carried also plays a key role in message retention by the consumers (Jansson 114). Messages that appear on television are more likely to be remembered as opposed to once that appears on the radio.

After the consumer chooses the messages he wants, they compare the brands and the products, and their probability to satisfy their particular need. Consumers evaluate alternatives based on functional and psychological benefits (Reichert 133). It is therefore important for advertisers to clearly state the benefits a consumer would get from the product. Advertisers should therefore understand what consumers are looking for in a particular product and hence address the need by availing the information during the advertising process. The psychological process is guided by attitude formation on the product and associative satisfaction from other products from the same company (Mullen and Johnson 79). The consumer, therefore, makes a buying decision based on the attitudes held about the product, information held from advertisements, and influence from friends.

​Purchase decision

Once a consumer has chosen, the product they think is going to satisfy their need, they then make a move to purchase the product. The advertising message should be clear where a potential consumer can get the product if they make a purchase decision. Marketers should also incorporate incentives like selling on credit, promotions, and discounts to entice consumers into buying the products.

​Post-purchase evaluation

After buying the product, a consumer will evaluate the suitability of the product in satisfying the need. Successful purchases will be based on the level of satisfaction of the product. Consumers will compare the performance of the products and their expectations. If the product satisfaction falls below their expectation, then it is unlikely that they would buy the same product again to satisfy the same need. Consumers always doubt whether they made the right choice, especially when dealing with an expensive product. This is considered to be cognitive dissonance (Belch and Belch 117).

Advertisers must be able to pre-empt the expectation of the consumers before launching the product to the market. Marketers must look for new ways of communicating their message to consumers. The effectiveness of the message is as good as the product. Sometimes the message packaged controversially will ignite debate among the targeted consumer base. Belch and Belch, 2007 say that ‘sex is a means to gain consumer’s attention.’ Most adverts have a considerable level of sexism. Sex is an emotional trigger in the mind of the consumer. However, this information could have the opposite effect if it lands in minds of underage children, hence inviting the wrath of advertising agencies.

The advertising method used therefore plays a key role in the perception held about a particular brand. The use of sexual adverts portrays men and women in the adverts as being sexual objects. According to Wells et al, 2006, ‘advertising that portrays women (or men) as sex objects, is considered demeaning and sexist, particularly if sex is not relevant to the product.’ Many of the offensive adverts in Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, and Tom Ford have used explicit sexual images while the products they are advertising have nothing to do with nudity. This is why the advertisements invited condemnation from many countries. For instance, the D&G ad that featured a half-naked man pinning down a woman while others watched was banned in several countries. According to Independent (2007), ‘the ad featured an image of a half-naked man holding down a woman while four male models submissively look on’ was criticized as glorifying rape and demeaning to women. The advertisement was banned both in Italy and in Spain.

​Advertising Characteristics

It is frustrating and disheartening for companies to invest heavily in an advertising campaign but end up not increasing sales as envisioned. Indeed, when there is reduced activity in the market it is the advertising budget that is reduced. However, it is during this time of the drop in sales that a company is supposed to invest more in advertising. But it should be advertising that creates a pattern, makes new consumers aware of the products while not offending the existing consumers. A successful advertising campaign must have four major characteristics: Ads should be targeted to a particular audience, successful advertisements must solve a problem, they must be unique, and must cause the audience to make a buying decision (Marconi 103).

Advertisements should be highly targeted

Advertisers always think of striking into increasing sales through advertisements. Advertisements carried on television must be aware of the prime time when people are watching television. It should also target the right viewers. For high-end spenders in the fashion and luxury industry advertising in towns is more effective than carrying the same advertisement in media that are common in rural areas (Aaker 50). Time should also be of the essence; advertising a product during news time would reach more people than when the advertisement is carried after people have already gone to work. Advertisements that target people in the high-end market can be made in fashion magazines that are popular with this group (Petley 44). Targeting the audience will save money through the reach of the audience that is likely to influence a consumer to make a buying decision. Potential buyers must always be targeted in advertisements.

Advertisements must solve a problem

The satisfaction or utility that consumers will get from consuming a particular product should guide the packaging of the advertising message. The need that the product addresses should be informed of a requisite market study that shows the needs and wants of a particular group of people in a market segment. For instance, sunglasses would solve the problem of bothering about sun rays damaging the eyesight. Designers and marketers of sunglasses must therefore incorporate the message of the need that the product is going to solve.

While product features are essential, the benefits that a consumer gets are the ones that enable them to make a buying decision. The benefits of the products should be as important as the features in the advertising message (Marconi 105). Every advertising message must endeavor to address a consumer’s problem.

Advertisements should be unique

Advertisements created from usual boring cliché without the use of creative language do not appeal to consumers. An advert must carry a specific message, with an easy to remember tag line. This will make it easier for consumers to remember the products. Advertisers should avoid duplication of messages from their competitors. There is usually a temptation to use the message design that was used by competitors and became effective in achieving the goal of increasing sales.

Advertisers must determine what sets their product apart from the competitors. By emphasizing this message, the product is likely to address a specific problem as opposed to when the message seems to be a duplication of another company’s advertisement (Petley 44). The message should be why would a customer spend money on your product and not the other product? This is the question the message should strive to answer.

Successful advertisements should cause the target audience to act

Advertisement must always call for action. Getting the attention of consumers is good, but convincing the audience to buy the product should be the cardinal aim of the advertisement. Whenever the target group comes across the advert, they should be able to make a move to either try the product or contact the manufacturer. For instance, advertisements on menswear should also include where potential customers will find the products if they so wish to buy. A good message should not leave a potential consumer, asking questions but should be able to answer them in the shortest possible way (Clow and Baack 315). The message should not belong to the bore and lose the attention of the viewer or reader. It should be long enough to cover all the details and short enough to hold the attention of the target audience. Advertisers should know that they are fighting against the sale of print space and length of airtime and always remember the longer the message the higher the cost of advertising.

​Impacts of controversial advertisements

Controversial advertising (or what is called shock advertising) has adverts that deliberately offend the audience while violating the norms. Controversial advertising is meant to capture the attention of the viewers and bring awareness to the brand. According to Waller (b), 20, controversial advertisements relay a message of a surprise to the audiences because the advertising message violates the socially accepted norms and practices. Haters of these controversial advertisements (shock advertisements) claim that the message is a breach of moral, ethical, and social code. Advertisers and psychologists have for long debated on the effectiveness of controversial advertising. However, consumers are likely to remember shocking advertisements as opposed to remembering those that do not cause any controversy. Shock advertising entails triggering of sexual sentiments or even fear among the audience (Hawkins et al 505). Due to its unusual nature, shock advertising may achieve the intended goal.

The sole purpose of advertisements is to convince and influence consumers to buy a product or service. An advert will show the name of the product and the benefit a consumer will get from buying the product. Besides, it should as well direct the consumer where they can purchase the product. Adverts should therefore be eye-catching, provocative, original, creative, and sometimes controversial (Waller (b) 27). From many adverts that consumers view every day, one that is easy to remember should have a clear message, strike emotions of the consumer, and even at times be controversial. Consumers may be surprised, shocked, or even offended, but the goal will have been achieved if consumers decide to try the product. Though controversial advertisements have been condemned by advertising agencies, it is the uniqueness of the message that makes the advert stand out from all the rest (Bryman 236). Through selective perception, consumers unconsciously sieve and filter some information while committing other information to memory. However, a similar effect would result if a consumer finds the advertisement offending. They may unconsciously choose to forget the advert due to its moral and unethical messages.

On the other hand, adverts should endeavor not to trigger religious, tribal, racial, or ethnic stereotypes. This is likely to raise the moral ethics of the adverts and may end up leading to a boycott of the product. Adverts wars have raised a furor in the industry. When Gucci, Tom Ford, and Dolce & Gabbana used sexually explicit adverts, they were already aware of the sentiments they were likely to trigger among the people who would view the adverts. However, the same controversy makes the products well known among the target audience. Adverts should not use strong messages that are likely to turn the target audience away from making a buying decision.

​Brand awareness and brand recognition

Consumer behavior may occur either on an individual or on a group of people. For instance, friends can influence the kind of clothes that one wears. A job that one does can also affect the way people dress. For instance, it is unconventional for people to walk into an office clad in jeans and a t-shirt or wearing beachwear. This means, therefore, there is the attire for every occasion. Consumer behavior therefore can be affected by many factors among them work ethics. The behavior of consumers during shopping can be shaped by the advertising message. Consumer motivation and the decision-making process is affected by brand awareness through advertising. However, the decision to purchase a product depends on how well the product in question can satisfy the needs and wants of the target audience.

The message of advertising must be tailored to meet the needs of consumers (Hawkins et al 507). How effective the advertising message will go in convincing the consumer to make a buying decision depends on how well the message articulates the benefits of the products towards the needs of the consumer. The message will boost brand awareness if it carries characteristics of the message discussed in earlier chapters. Market research is necessary to ensure that the message will be directed to the right audience to maximize its effects. The uniqueness of the message should be such that consumers can easily remember the message and identify with it. The design of the message should be creative and original. Messages that are full of clichés are likely to be boring to clients. In trying to be unique, the message may go to the extreme, sometimes bordering on obscenities or explicit sexual connotations.

Market research will be able to bring forth the level of penetration of both competitors and substitutes (Fam 117). The research will also help to know areas of consumer needs that have not been met. Advertising of a brand should therefore try to address the gap available in satisfaction from other competing products. The research will also reveal other factors that influence as defined in the PESTLE model. Climatic conditions, political-legal, and economic factors will always affect the level of penetration of the product. Consumer segmentation will also be necessary for research to ascertain what are the different kinds of consumers and their specific needs. Brand awareness depends on the advertisement message. In controversial advertisements, the message may offend some people, but it might have achieved its goal of informing consumers about the brand. Feelings and emotions are key to articulating the intended message especially in building awareness of the products (Petley 47). Advertisements are viewed by consumers on how easy they are to remember, the associative properties of products from the same company, and experience from the earlier use of the brand or persuasion from friends who have used the product.

Brand awareness depends on brand recognition and recall. Brand recognition and recall are guided by the features of the brand. Consumers can remember the features and benefits of the brand or product and therefore will choose it when they visit the retail shops. Brand recognition and recall depends on the preciseness of the advertising message (Hoyer and Maclnnis 111). If the message was irritating to consumers, then it is not likely to be recalled as opposed to one that is easy to remember. Due to their unique nature, controversial messages are more easily remembered than ‘flat’ messages that do not evoke any emotions in consumers. The brand image just as well as one that appeals to the eyes and can be easily identified. Brands that are not unique in the product features are likely to be confused with their competitors in retail shops. Due to the success of other related products, a new product by the same company is likely to be associated with the products that appeared earlier in the market. If the product did not appeal to the consumers any other brand by the same company is likely to face hostilities due to selective perception though on negative impact.

The publicity of any brand is said to succeed based on the extent to which the potential clients encounter a stimulus; for instance, the extent to which consumers are exposed to numerous advertisements from radio, television, billboard, and magazine adverts. However, it is the uniqueness of the message that enables the consumer to remember the message. Controversial messages are easier to remember than other messages. This is why advertisers prefer to use sexual images, even though they are aware that the message may trigger uproar from society. The fashion industry has been growing exponentially in the UK and across the world. It is the creativity of advertisers that makes one brand more potent than the other. Advertisements are designed to appeal to high-end spenders and therefore the medium to communicate the message is vital. Fashion magazines are one of those mediums used by fashion designers in advertising their products. This is convenient because those young people who wish to purchase the latest fashion models will always go for these magazines. Fashion designers also use models that are very popular with young people (Lester 71). This target group endeavors to identify with the models and celebrities. It was necessary therefore for fashion brands from Gucci, Tom Ford, and Dolce & Gabbana to use Hollywood stars in marketing their brands. Indeed, the sales shot up when these celebrities were associated with these brands.


For advertisers, a controversial message can be beneficial to the product or damage its reputation; in particular the image of the product and the image of the company in general, due to the associative nature of the advert. Such messages may be unavoidable for companies that deal with controversial products like condoms, lingerie, underwear, and even beachwear. Advertisers of these products have a social responsibility not to offend the same people that they are targeting in their campaigns. However, some companies deal with comparatively less controversial products but end up using sexually explicit advertising messages. This is called shock or controversial advertising which according to Barnes and Dotson (90), can be grouped into two main categories; which are advertising of offensive products and the offensive execution of advertising message to the potential consumers. Controversial advertising is a deliberate method to ignite debate and attention of audiences and in the process generate media coverage. This makes the message popular among the public(s). However, the use of themes can be extremely offensive. The themes are stereotyping based on race, tribe or color, sexually suggestive materials, religious ridicule, and others that are demeaning to a particular gender of underage children.

Waller (b) in his research titled “What factors make controversial advertising offensive” noted that controversial advertising has a negative concept. However, the question that advertisers and psychologists grapple with is if controversial advertising leads to negative responses why would companies still embrace the style. While advertisers can choose the theme of the advertisement, they may not be in a position to choose the audience that will be exposed to the advert. If the advertisement is offending then, it may cause a boycott of the product. The cardinal aim of an advertising campaign is to increase sales. However, if an advert cause opposition to the product then the message has failed to achieve its intended objective.

Three luxury brands that will be investigated in this research share a similar niche, business models and have clients of similar age and social background. Gucci, Tom Ford, and Dolce & Gabbana have specialized in luxury brands targeting the high-end market. This is the market segment whose major concern is not the price of products but the satisfaction that comes with the products (Tellis 15). The influence of groups, nature of work, and family members can influence the consumption of these products. Companies should not only gear at attracting new consumers but should also maintain the existing customer base. This can only be achieved through the exposure of the benefits of the products rather than emphasizing product features. It also requires the advertising company to use creative and original information that is not awash with clichés and boring usual phrases.

To achieve this cardinal goal, advertisers choose deliberately to be controversial in their advertisements. Gucci, Tom Ford, and Dolce & Gabbana have been accused of using sexually suggestive materials in their adverts. However, these adverts have achieved their intended goals because more people continue to talk about brands and companies. The advertising message is, therefore, meant to persuade individuals or groups of people while informing them of the benefits so that they can make a buying decision.

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