Companies have been trying and failing at “edgy marketing” since before 2009, and the concept itself peaked in popularity somewhere around 2013. If you run a search query on the very concept of edgy marketing, you’re returned twice as many failures as you are successes. So why is it that “edginess” still intrudes upon our marketing content? It would seem as though while creating edgy content died out, creating “content with edge” did not.

But it should. It really, really should.

dictionary-698538_1280A Matter of Definition: Let’s Define “Edgy”

What is edgy, anyway? Today, it’s considered some sort of “secret sauce” that you just layer onto something to make it punchier, brighter and more exciting. “Edgy” can mean almost anything to a client. Shorter. Bolder. Livelier. Funnier. Angrier.

Basically, just better. In fact, when most clients say they want their copy to be edgier, what they’re really saying is that it’s boring right now. And that could be for any number of things that have nothing to do with its Edge Factor.

But let’s define what edge really means to a marketer. Edge is a combination of things: silly, irreverent, blunt and direct. An edgy campaign doesn’t necessarily have to be an offensive campaign, but many are “mainstream” offensive: being a little rude to the customer, being blunt about profit goals or being overly obvious about a product’s marketing. Most of the problems with edgy marketing occur when the marketers cross too firmly over to “offensive.”

bubble-19329_1280Edgy is Easy — Facts are Hard

Edgy marketing is appealing because it’s usually easy. It appeals to our baser needs. Instead of creating a 6,000 word white paper about olfactory instincts and hormones, you can just create a splash page that says “You Smell! Buy Our Soap!”

But to backtrack on that, creating just any edgy marketing campaign is easy — creating a good one is very hard. And that’s why it fell out of favor almost as quickly as it came into it.

A trend with a rise and fall similar to clickbait, edgy marketing really only worked when it was unique and new. Once the market became absolutely inundated with edgy, bizarre and offensive ads, the consumer started turning away. The whole appeal of edgy advertising was that advertisers were saying things that advertisers weren’t supposed to say. Once everyone was doing it, what was the point?

It was no longer a small marketing rebellion; it was the status quo.

human-733478_1280A Generation That’s Out-of-Touch With Itself

You always run into problems when marketers try to appeal to a demographic that they can’t possibly relate to or understand. But what if they can’t understand their own demographic? Not much can really be said about “millennials” as a whole — this generation is a diverse group that’s mostly typified by its sheer terror of taking out loans and credit.

And for some reason when you’re wearing the marketing hat, everything just goes haywire. You can excuse it when it’s large advertising agencies; it’s people who are ten, twenty or thirty years older than the focus group. But when people are trying to advertise to their peers and wildly hitting off mark — what’s going on?

Well, that’s a case of client blindness: when you focus so much on what the client is thinking and feeling that you forget that the client may be very much like yourself. You’re thinking too much about “Well, these guys will find it funny,” and not asking yourself “Wait — do I find this funny?”

And that’s a real problem. The best content creators are often the ones who are able to really connect in an honest and open way to their clients. Not the ones who are just looking for a cheap emotional appeal.

accidental-slip-542551_1280But Let’s Get Back to the Epic Fails

You can and should cringe a little. In fact, you can also cringe at the word cringe, or worst yet, cringeworthy. We’ve explained why edgy marketing is still popular and why it fails, but not why it’s so absolutely disgusting when it does. In fact, it’s almost a little embarrassing.

You feel a little embarrassed for them.

An edgy campaign that fails has misunderstood the product’s role in your life so significantly that it’s just sad. They think that their service is so special that you would allow them to abuse you (“you’re dumb if you don’t drink this!”), or that you’re so stupid that you’ll buy into an obvious ploy (“drink this, it doesn’t totally suck”). They’ve completely misinterpreted you. 

And that’s like, the one job they had.

And sometimes it’s a little too spot on. Edgy advertising targets the immature. And we were all immature once. So, for those who have matured, it only reminds us of a time when we might have bought into that lazy advertising and been proud to do it. The last thing you want to do, as a marketer, is to trigger memories of awkward high school years. Unless you’re selling something to awkward high school people.

Most companies today don’t set out with the goal of creating an “edgy” campaign, they simply keep trying to add “edge” to their content to create something more compelling. But really, all that does is dumb the content down: it elevates base, emotional appeals, while reducing actual value. If balance is lost, the content loses its integrity.

Consider all of the companies that have tried and failed at “edgy marketing” a cautionary tale; trying to toe the line between memorable and offensive usually isn’t worth the trouble. That doesn’t mean that your content shouldn’t have personality, but that personality doesn’t have to come at the cost of respect for your audience.

Jenna Inouye

Jenna I. is a freelance writer, programmer and web developer, focusing on the areas of digital marketing, technology, gaming and finance. Hire Jenna through WriterAccess or contact her directly.


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