One of the main reasons why is control. It’s tempting to try and make sure that everyone’s going to like what’s being made but in the process the creation becomes clean and inoffensive, or salesy.

Controversy is often shunned as part of this risk-adversity. But, sometimes, the risks are exaggerated: a bit of controversy can be a good thing – and a catalyst for better results, especially with a bit of conviction to back it up.

Here’s a case study of a riskier infographic-style piece that recently did well for the Snowskool team that I work with.

Here’s the design:

Here are the highlights so far:

Coverage: Article in the Daily Telegraph (one of the UK’s biggest newspapers) – Including 600 shares and a link within the article (snippet below).

Shares: +650 Facebook Likes & Shares

Traffic: +2,000 Unique Page Views.

Design costs: Roughly £200

Here are some key things we learned:

1. Be accurate

If you are going to be controversial then at least back the bolsh with witty and astute observations.

In my experience it’s usually the client (or someone else in the know) that holds the best of these bits ‘n’ bobs and not the teams that try to pull it all together without detailed knowledge.

So most of the fundamentals came from Snowskool in this case and we got the final product in shape as a team.

The accuracy of the observations won’t be obvious to every viewer but if you’ve spent some time on the slopes then the persona might hit the spot – because Piers is based on encounters with a character that exists, as you can see from the comments below.

Key point: The people that know the topic intimately should have at least as much input into the idea than those who are supporting it – especially in controversial cases where it’s important to hit mark, or the funny bone.

2.  Find the fine line

One of the main difficulties in creating content like this is finding that fine line between risqué, funny and offensive. Controversy works, especially when viewers can comment, almost anonymously, and say something they wouldn’t normally be able to say. But crossing the line can be dangerous.

Finding the fine line requires a bit of debate before going live. We knocked a few heads together, our own and those of our friends, to make sure we weren’t going too far.

And getting national exposure like we did in the Telegraph was only possible because we stayed just on the right side of the divide.

Key point: Don’t rush things out or be counterproducively crass – have a bit of testing and debate beforehand.

3. Controversy can be attractive

I’m a bit of a cynic towards the process of ‘influencer engagement’ but it was the very technique that you see in PowerPoint presentations and training sessions that got the coverage in the Telegraph.

How? An audacious Twitter message got noticed, the strength of the content made an impression and we were asked if would be ok to cover the piece. Simple as that; sometimes it works.

Key point: Be bold when trying to promote content – intrepid attempts can work, but they work even better if your material makes an impression.

4. Use a sensible budget

This infographic – admittedly not a true infographic – has a very basic design behind it but the simple structure supports the ideas well and helped the whole thing to come together for less than 200 Great British Pounds.

Based on that budget, this piece worked well but the results of creative content can be unpredictable – especially in controversial cases – so it’s a good idea to be on the safe side by keeping the expenses to a minimum.

£1k is a good guideline maximum bet to get a reasonable return on investment.

Key point: Don’t overcomplicate a design or process – it can be expensive. A £10k graphic that generates a non-reaction or meagre scraps of shares is far harder to justify than one that cost a pittance to put together.

5. Set suitable targets

What’s the goal of this graphic? It’s certainly not to try and convince viewers to have a laugh, pause for a moment of reflection, and then book a ski improver course in Japan.

Our goal was more realistic: to support brand awareness and search visibility with shares and coverage. That might sound loose but it’s honest and practical.

The controversial angle supported this goal in some ways, as part of the overall design and strategy – it helped the graphic to get noticed, shared and covered, where a blander piece would’ve been overlooked.

Key point: Controversial content can be shareable – suited to goals of increasing awareness and supporting search visibility.

If those goals aren’t yours – then at least have a goal that’s tied to the stage of the user-journey that the content fits into.

Other general points

  • Paid support: Boost bigger content pieces with some paid support. We used pay-per-engagement sponsorship within Facebook in this case, because the model is affordable and fitted our goals but also because organic reach is getting harder to achieve.
  • Design templates: Recycle designs instead of creating new templates from scratch. We’ll use this design again for the second stereotype in the series to keep costs even lower the second time round.
  • Communities: Don’t underestimate the value of time spent in online conversation. It isn’t just the infographic, it is the conversation leading up to and after its presentation that makes it work too.

That’s it then. Any other ideas of experiences, good or bad, with creating and promoting content that’s a bit controversial?