Creative, if you can call it that or 'boundary pushing' controversial work can help generate more than just an advert. Sometimes, a campaign can become very well known for all the wrong reasons. Publicity is a funny little thing. Is good publicity really good and bad publicity really bad? Or on the other hand, is good publicity really bad, and bad publicity really good? Or is any publicity good publicity, as long as it helps generate more awareness, more exposure and more conversation?
It's clearly evident from past experiences that controversial advertising will get you noticed, it will also help you get pages and pages of free, widespread publicity. Articles in newspapers, mentions on TV, links on websites, discussions in blogs, and tweets on Twitter, all a resulting factor of a 'bad' campaign. What we must ask ourselves though is, if we get that much exposure, that much interaction, and that much interest, then is it really a 'bad' campaign? In some cases you couldn't afford to buy the type of exposure some campaigns get for a controversial piece of advertising. So do agencies and clients alike, put such pieces of work out there for our scouring eyes, knowing full well that a reaction of some kind is very prominent and very likely, and is that reaction, in some cases, what they are looking for?
In all honesty, I don't feel it damages a brand, as long as the campaign is morally, and ethically correct, to an extent. Most recently, the banned Microsoft campaign has not had any positive effects on the brand. It's direct connection with race and colour is something Microsoft would have preferred to strayed well away from. This shows a distinct difference between 'cunningly creative' and boundary pushing work, as appose to discriminating, and socially sensitive work.
Creatively controversial work can have a big impact on a brand and it's presence in the industry, and within the media. However, only when it is executed correctly and precisely will it provide a beneficial outcome. It is also imperative to understand and take into consideration the target market of a brand, and how they may, or may not react or perceive to such 'cunning' creativity.
Whether acts of such 'controversial' or 'cunning' nature are ethically or morally correct for the industry is up for debate, but thats not to say we won't see many more boundary pushing campaigns in the near future. If there's a line, it's always going to get stepped over.