Cory DavisCopywriter



Risky Advertising: The Good, The Bad, and The Stinky

Advertising is a risky business these days. Nudity on billboards, super bowel movements, and that “Dry January” tweet are a few examples of brands sticking their necks out to capture attention. 

Sometimes, it pays off. Sometimes, it creates controversy. And sometimes, it blows up in your face.

So why take the risk when you can play it safe and still get positive results? All signs point towards an overcrowded media environment – and self-aware audiences that are more intentional with their time. 

Being bold is a way to cut through the clutter and get noticed – for better or worse. You know what they say: there’s no such thing as bad publicity. 

Or is there?

Have we become desensitized? 

Why are we seeing more risky advertising from brands? What’s changed? 

For starters, the competitive landscape is fierce. Technology has propelled us to a point where basement businesses and storeless start-ups have the potential to go toe-to-toe with market share leaders. And people love an underdog trying to take down a faceless corporation. 

Today, even the largest brands can be overtaken with surprising swiftness. According to Gigasavvy, 52% of the Fortune 500 since 2000 are now obsolete. Meaning, for some, taking risks and constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable is the only option left. 

Playing it safe is no longer a strategy. It’s a surrender. 

But that doesn’t mean wearing a blindfold and going boldly where no brand has gone before. Be risky, but be wise about it. Canadian advertising and marketing laws are as strict as ever, with censorship and gatekeepers remaining a relevant force in traditional media. Not to mention, industries such as healthcare, finance, and government are highly regulated. 

That said, the advent of social media has blurred the lines between what brands can and cannot get away with. As privately owned companies, the likes of Twitter and Reddit have the final say on what’s acceptable. And let’s be honest, some of these platforms are like the Wild West of the internet. 

Social media also puts your finger on the pulse of what’s offensive and what’s not, while offering a testing ground for new ideas and timely content. It allows brands to track trends and hijack topics of discussion among their audiences. A great example is Snickers’ recent “THE VEINS REMAIN” tweet. The brand was quick to respond to rumours of certain features being removed from its chocolate bar, and its saucy retort went viral rapidly.

We can also assume a shift in demographics is responsible for more daring ideas. Baby Boomers are aging into retirement, Gen Xers are preparing to pass the torch, too, and Millenials are moving into high-level positions within brands, boards, and agencies. 

Younger generations are putting aside the traditional ways of their predecessors, challenging the status quo and trying new things. 

And don’t forget about the rise of Gen Z consumers. This segment is value-conscious, individualistic, bold, and creative. They’re drawn to personality-driven brands with strong morals and ethical practices. Remember, risky advertising isn’t always doing something shocking. Sometimes, it’s drawing a line in the sand and taking a side regardless of the backlash.

The popularity of entrepreneurship is also playing a role. Bootstrapping your own business or convincing venture capitalists to invest in your start-up is a risk in itself; it requires being bold and getting comfortable with taking chances. It seems logical these individuals are more willing to cross the line and step outside the box to gain a foothold in the marketplace. 

Are you struggling to come up with new ideas? When you hit a creative wall, try thinking inside the box, instead. 

Whatever the reason, risky advertising is becoming more and more common from brands in a variety of industries. Let’s dissect a few examples.

adidas’ #SupportIsEverything (2022) 

To launch its extensive new line of sports bras, adidas went topless (literally) in its #SupportIsEverything campaign. It’s possibly one of the most disruptive pieces in the sports gear industry. The brand showcased a variety of uncensored breasts on social media and on a billboard outside its headquarters – the billboard contained the message, “The reasons we didn’t make just one new sports bra.” 

According to adidas, 90% of women are wearing the wrong sports bra. So it developed a new line of products that includes 43 different styles and 72 sizes. The larger part of the story is female athletes – or women who simply want to be comfortable when they exercise – come in all different shapes and sizes. The brand wanted to tell that story in an impactful way. 

Mission accomplished. The campaign stirred up consumers, with some praising adidas for supporting body positivity, while others criticized the brand for creating a shocking ad designed to generate revenue using women’s bodies. At this point, the campaign has only been in market for a couple of months, so its overall success is yet to be determined.

Nike’s Dream Crazy (2018) 

Nike has never been shy about creating controversy, and its 2018 Dream Crazy campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick did just that. The former NFL quarterback, infamous for kneeling during the American national anthem, was the spokesperson for the campaign celebrating the 30th anniversary of “Just Do It.” 

The campaign included an evocative video with Kaepernick encouraging people to dream crazy. It showcased athletes, individuals living with disabilities, and minority groups overcoming adversity in a variety of sports. The underlying message was to be bigger than yourself and to “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” 

The backlash was instantaneous. Business shares dropped the day the campaign launched, the hashtags #BoycottNike and #JustBurnIt spread across social media, and consumers posted videos of themselves burning their Nike apparel. 

On the other hand, the brand received overwhelming support across the country, and following the U.S. Labour Day Weekend, sales of Nike products increased 31%. When the dust settled, the campaign earned Nike and Kaepernick millions in revenue. And despite the controversy, the brand remains the market leader in the sports gear industry.

Burger King’s Moldy Whopper (2020)   

In 2020, Burger King launched an unappetizing campaign showcasing its popular Whopper covered in mold. The purpose was to announce the removal of artificial preservatives, colours, and flavours from its signature sandwich. 

The campaign was admired by fellow marketing and advertising professionals, earning a whopping 18 awards at the Clio Awards. But seeing a glory shot of a 34-day-old rotting burger left many consumers feeling squeamish. 

But Burger King is familiar with taking risks. In 2017, it created a series of ads with real photos of its restaurants on fire to promote its burgers always being flame-grilled. And let’s not forget the brand’s epic fail on Twitter during International Women’s Day in 2021.

TUSHY’s Super Bowel Monday (2022)

The Super Bowl is marketing madness, with advertisers spending big bucks for airtime during the event. Rather than flushing wads of cash down the toilet, TUSHY, a bidet brand known for its cheeky creative, took to social media to piggyback off the popularity of the big game. 

The brand launched its Super Bowel Contest, asking people to send photos of their post-game poop. They were also asked to publish the photos on their timeline using the hashtag #TUSHYSuperBowel. Doing so entered the participant into the contest, giving them a chance to win $10,000 and a TUSHY Classic bidet. 

The contest created quite a stink online and grossed out plenty of people (myself included). But it generated a crapload of engagement and produced more than 2,000 submissions. 

Did it result in sales? That remains to be seen. But from a brand awareness standpoint, it was a cost-effective campaign with minimal risk involved.

Who else is being bold?

The above are only a handful of brands being bold with their advertising. But a quick Google search reveals plenty more. Here’s a list of a few other examples of brands making waves:

Calculate the risk vs. the reward

Is risky advertising a bottom-of-the-barrel approach for shock value alone, or is it a viable tactic to achieve long-term success? 

The short answer: it depends.

That said, when your brand’s reputation, your revenue, and your job are at stake, it’s best to weigh the risk versus reward before firing off that hot take into the Twitterverse. At times, it’s best to leave an idea in the drafts and defer to something safer. However, some brands have made a name for themselves by living dangerously.

Will you be one of them? 

Cory DavisCopywriter

Cory DavisCopywriter


digital marketing - social media

The Art of the Hashtag

A pound sign here, a number sign there, and you’re good to go, right? 

Not quite (#SorryNotSorry). There’s more to expanding your reach on social media than dropping a few hashtags in a post and hoping for the best. In this article, you’ll learn the art of using hashtags, including: 

  • The benefits of hashtags 
  • How to determine and target relevant terms
  • Best practices for each platform and accessibility considerations

Let’s discuss the basics of hashtags before we dive in. 

First, make sure your accounts are set to public – if they’re private, only your followers can see your posts, which severely limits organic reach. 

Next, hashtags always begin with the pound sign, but they can’t include any other symbols, punctuation, or spaces. 

Finally, it’s recommended to keep your hashtags clear and concise. Obscure terms or multiple words strung together are difficult to remember and unlikely to be embraced by users. 

The benefits of using hashtags

Think of hashtags like social media’s version of search engine optimization (SEO). They organize content and make it easier for users to find what they’re interested in. 

Hashtags are a great way to capitalize on trends, helping brands join online conversations in a less invasive way. Using a popular hashtag relevant to your industry or target audience can enhance engagement, which helps boost your visibility to the platform’s algorithm.

Brand awareness is another benefit to using hashtags. Consider #WeTheNorth for the Toronto Raptors: as of October 2021, the term has nearly two-million associated posts on Instagram. 

Hashtags also allow brands to show their support for a social issue. Bell Canada’s #BellLetsTalk raises awareness for mental health, and it provides a way to increase their fundraising efforts surrounding the cause. 

What other benefits do hashtags offer?

1. Help users stay updated with topics of interest

Not only are hashtags searchable, but they can be followed as well. For example, someone interested in travelling might follow #travel or #TravelLife as a way of curating their feed to inspire future trips. 

If you operate in tourism, using those specific hashtags can increase the likelihood of your posts being seen by the right audience. 

2. Promote contests and giveaways

Just like branded hashtags help increase brand awareness, creating a hashtag for a contest or giveaway achieves a similar result. These types of hashtags can also help drive user-generated content (UGC). 

The popular Do Us a Flavor contest by Lays is a great example. #DoUsAFlavor was a viral success with extraordinary engagement, and it helped create thousands of user-generated posts for the brand.

3. Build an online community

Hashtags are a great way to rally like-minded individuals. #MarketingTwitter and #WritingCommunity allow marketing professionals and creative writers to connect on Twitter, where they share ideas, advice, and promote one another’s work.

For brands, identifying communities using hashtags relevant to your industry, products, or services does two things: 

  1. It helps you pinpoint a viable audience to target with your marketing 
  2. It helps you narrow down which terms to use as hashtags in your posts

How to determine relevant hashtags

Knowing which hashtags to use is key to finding organic success on social media. But it requires research.

Luckily, there are a number of tools to help: Hashtagify, Ritetag, Sprout Social, and more. For an in depth list, check out the Top 15 Hashtag Analytics Tools in 2021 from Keyhole. 

Another tactic is to monitor posts from your competition and social media influencers in your marketplace. Conduct a competitive analysis and catalogue the following: 

  • The posts receiving the most views and engagement
  • The number of hashtags used in each post  
  • The specific hashtags used

Note: Using a trending hashtag may get your post seen in a timely manner, but targeting popular terms isn’t always the best approach. The more people use a hashtag, the more competition it creates.

And with most algorithms favouring recent posts, this makes it harder to be featured at the top of a user’s feed for an extended period of time. Using the same hashtags as large brands with thousands (or millions) of followers presents a similar challenge. 

What’s the solution?

Get specific with your hashtags – instead of using something generic like #travel, narrow your focus to #TravelOntario, #TravelKingston, or #RuralTravel.

Another solution is to target related hashtags. Instagram and LinkedIn, for instance, provide alternatives to the term you initially searched. 

Lastly, don’t forget to track and measure the success of your posts. 

Hashtag best practices

Before we discuss how to use hashtags on different social media platforms, let’s talk about accessibility – or readability. 

Some people use screen readers to consume content online. So it’s important to capitalize the first letter of each word in hashtags with more than one word. Doing so makes it easier for a screen reader to vocalize long hashtags, and it makes your content more legible overall.  

Using hashtags on Twitter

There are no hard and fast rules for using hashtags on Twitter, but with only 280 characters per tweet, keeping them short is recommended. 

You can use hashtags at the beginning of a post to capture attention. Or you can put them at the end to give context without a lengthy description. Inputting them in the middle of your post is another way to save space or highlight a keyword. 

Here are a few other considerations: 

  • Commenting, replying, or retweeting with hashtags can boost the visibility of a previous post
  • Using hashtags in your bio is a great way to get your account found by users searching popular terms
  • Twitter suggests using no more than two hashtags per tweet

Using hashtags on Instagram

While hashtags originated on Twitter, they’re extremely popular on Instagram. They can be followed just like an account, they provide context to your stories, and they increase the reach of your posts and Reels. 

Note: Instagram stories are no longer shown in the feed for searched or followed hashtags.

You can use up to 30 hashtags in a post and 10 in a story, but there are varying opinions on the ideal number for each. Some claim using the maximum produces the best results, while others suggest half is the happy medium.

We suggest testing to find what number works best for you. 

The most important factor to consider when determining how many hashtags to use is their relevance to each post, your industry, and your audience.

Where’s the best place to insert your hashtags on Instagram? 

Below your caption or as the first comment. 

Unlike Twitter, using a hashtag in the middle of a sentence or at the beginning of your caption takes the focus away from your copy and your call to action. It can also reduce readability, especially for those using screen readers. 

Here are a few other considerations: 

  • Using hashtags in your account bio can increase the organic reach of your profile 
  • The algorithm limits the visibility of your posts if you use too many irrelevant hashtags
  • If you have a business account, Instagram’s insights tool gives you access to useful analytics, including how many impressions your account received via hashtags 

For in-depth instruction on using hashtags on Instagram, read Hootsuite’s 2021 Instagram Hashtag Guide.  

Using hashtags on Facebook

Using hashtags on Facebook isn’t as common as Instagram or Twitter, but they are especially helpful for private pages and groups. 

Brands have recently found success by creating private accounts and offering audience members exclusive content within. Hashtags are then used to group information by topic or theme to help users find what interests them most. 

That’s not to say hashtags don’t serve a purpose for public posts. 

As with other platforms, hashtags are searchable on Facebook. Again, relevance is key, especially since the algorithm is known to penalize those who spam their content with irrelevant terms.   

Here are a few other considerations:

  • When you begin typing a hashtag, Facebook will automatically start suggesting relevant terms 
  • Posts set to private, or as only viewable by your followers, won’t be found organically
  • By using the URL “facebook/hashtag/[the term you want to search],” you’re able to view public profiles and posts targeting a specific hashtag

Using hashtags on LinkedIn

Using hashtags on LinkedIn is more common than Facebook, but a similar approach is suggested. 

That said, users can curate their feeds by following hashtags, or include hashtags in content they publish with LinkedIn’s article tool. 

Here are a few other considerations:

  • It’s recommended to use 1–3 relevant hashtags on LinkedIn
  • LinkedIn is considered a network for professionals, so it’s important your hashtags follow suit 
  • Your posts and articles can be set to private, only viewable by those you give access to, or they can be public 

For a complete guide to using hashtags on LinkedIn, Hootsuite delivers another great resource with this article.

Using hashtags on Pinterest

Think of Pinterest as a search engine, with hashtags being the keywords you optimize your content around.

Do your research to uncover the terms used by your audience – a great place to start is Pinterest’s search bar. As you start typing a keyword, a list of relevant terms and phrases is automatically populated, giving you an idea of what users are commonly searching. 

Here are a few other considerations: 

  • Hashtags can be used in a pin description, the description for repinning a post, and in the comments section of a pin
  • You can add up to 20 hashtags per pin, and it’s suggested to insert them at the bottom of your description
  • Hashtags aren’t clickable in your bio, board descriptions and names, or your profile name

For more on using hashtags on Pinterest, check out the Definitive Guide to Pinterest Hashtags on Blogging Wizard. 

4 key takeaways for using hashtags on social media

  1. Relevancy is one of the most important elements to increasing your organic reach using hashtags. Be strategic about which terms you use.
  2. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution; each platform is a little different. Develop a unique approach based on the network.
  3. Track, measure, and adapt. Using hashtags is an extension of your social media marketing plan. Your ability to improve results relies on gathering insights and refining your tactics accordingly.
  4. Back your plan with research. Whether you sift through data on your own or use a piece of software, take the guesswork out of the equation. 

Did you know hashtags can now be used on YouTube? Learn how to increase the discoverability of your videos in our guide to YouTube SEO. 

Cory DavisCopywriter

Cory DavisCopywriter



Meet the Alphabeteers Part One: Client Services

Welcome to Alphabet®, where great brands are built on big ideas and strong partnerships.

I’m Cory, a copywriter on the team, and over the next few weeks, I’ll be introducing you to the creative minds who help elevate our clients’ brands and transform their businesses – this edition features the client services department (accounts team).  

Alphabet® is fortunate to have some of the most talented, organized, and professional project managers and account directors in the industry. And to put it simply, they are responsible for making ABC look as easy as 123.

So, let’s dive in and learn more about the Alphabeteers who make up the accounts team.

Yasmin Khan

Studio Manager

Yasmin brings an impressive resume to the accounts team with over 30 years’ experience in a variety of communications fields. She’s goal-oriented, quality-focused, and is one of the cornerstones of the client services department. In her own way, Yasmin is Alphabet®’s parental figure, with her caring nature and dedication to helping fellow colleagues manage their work-life balance and improve their skills. 

Here’s what she had to say during our Q&A:

How long have you worked at Alphabet®? 
I started at Alphabet in the fall of 2015, so just over five years now.

What do you love most about your job? 
With each passing year, I get the chance to observe the awesome, creative, and talented people I work with grow into their best selves.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far? 
Traveling to Kenya to work in the field with an international group of geophysicists.

Yasmin served as an expedition science photographer for the Kenya Rift International Seismic Project.

I had never camped before, so sleeping in a cold tent and being with strangers 24/7 for a month was challenging – the wildlife, scenery, and tribal peoples made up for any discomfort.

What’s something most people don’t know about you? 
On clear nights, I like to wake up and go outside in the middle of the night to look at the night sky — identifying planets, stars and constellations.

Most embarrassing moment at Alphabet®? 
Every moment I have ever spent at a social event.

Emily Thorne

Senior Account Director

Emily joined Alphabet® in the spring of 2020 – just as lockdown measures were put in place due to the global pandemic. Her adaptability and professionalism come in spades with proven experience in the health, defence, and government industries. Emily’s wealth of knowledge and natural leadership abilities bring a veteran presence to the client services department. And she is the envy of the team with her flawless Zoom appearances.

How long have you worked at Alphabet®?
Seven months.

What do you love most about your job? 
Mine is a two-part answer:

  1. The opportunity to deep-dive into clients’ industries, audiences, and strategic challenges and opportunities at a really intricate and fundamental level.
  2. Getting to collaborate with a team of incredibly creative and dynamic thinkers to find exciting, boundary-pushing solutions to those client challenges and opportunities. 

The chance to straddle these two fascinating worlds is a real privilege. 

What’s been the highlight of your career so far? 
My career peaked when I had the opportunity to meet then-President Obama and, separately, then-VP / now President-elect, Biden. 

Now, I’m just coasting (KIDDING!). 

What’s something most people don’t know about you? 
Many moons ago, I was a two-time Canadian champion competitive Irish dancer. 

I also have super double-jointed elbows – it’s weird.

Most embarrassing moment at Alphabet®?
Hard toss-up between sending an all-staff email with a glaring typo on my very first day and, more recently, coming to the stark and semi-public realization that I’ve misunderstood the concepts of “gross” versus “net” my entire life.

I swear I’m smart!

Favourite moment at Alphabet®? 
Literally any time there are dogs in the office, which is basically always.

Marley Kirkpatrick

Account Manager

Don’t let Marley’s easy-going attitude fool you; she’s a fast-paced, strategic thinker and a multi-dimensional account manager with an incredible amount of creative talent – and the word in the office is she knows how to play just as hard as she works. Marley’s passion for travel and culture, along with a desire for lifelong learning, give her an international perspective on media and communications, keeping her on the cutting edge for our clients.

How long have you worked at Alphabet®? 
Just over 5 years…if you count my first year here as a content developer, working part-time while I was finishing university. 

I quickly realized that was not for me, and then I was introduced to the wonderful world of the accounts team.

What do you love most about your job? 
I honestly can’t pick one. But I think one of the coolest things is opening a magazine, scrolling Facebook, or driving down the highway and seeing work that I had a part in creating out in the real world – seeing the projects you’ve worked on come to life never gets old. 

I also love that literally no two days are the same. I never have a ‘boring’ day; there’s always a problem to be solved or something amazing to create. 

And, it’s so cliche, but the people…I really love working with this team (except for when people haven’t had their coffee yet).

What’s been the highlight of your career so far? 
Definitely getting to attend AdWeek in New York City in 2018. Incredible to be among some of the most notable people in the industry from all around the world (and some celebs too) – I learned so much. 

I also really loved going to the 2019 TIAO Summit in Blue Mountain – the highlight was our big win with Tourism Kingston for two marketing awards. 

Basically, I just really enjoy getting out and meeting other people in the industry. It’s inspiring to chat with them, hear their stories, and share the work that we do.

What’s something most people don’t know about you? 
I’m a pretty open book, so I don’t think there’s much that people don’t know about me. 

That said, one of my favourite things to do outside of work is tending to my indoor jungle – I’ve lost count of how many houseplants I have. 

But somehow I can still kill a succulent…

Most embarrassing moment at Alphabet®? 
I have so many that I would never allow on the internet. 

I’ll just say: Christmas Party 2015, Christmas Party 2016, Christmas Party 2017, Christmas Party 2018, and Christmas Party 2019.

Samantha Watters

Account Coordinator

Sam is a recently recruited Alphabeteer with a friendly, inviting personality. She’s high-spirited and detail-oriented, and her background in marketing, brand management, and event planning make her a valuable member of the client services department. Sam coordinates client projects at various stages and is quickly becoming the go-to team member for anything related to Minto Communities Ottawa. Her coordination with the creative studio is especially valued – something I can attest to.

How long have you worked at Alphabet®? 
Just under two months. 

What do you love most about your job? 
I love the culture at Alphabet®. 

We know how to have a good laugh, but we also know when to get to work.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far? 
Attending Google training during my time with Nissan Canada. 

Being taught by a Google expert about the ins and outs of Google AdWords was fascinating, as nerdy as that might sound. 

What’s something most people don’t know about you? 
I lived in Alaska for just under a year. My dad got a job in Anchorage, Alaska, so the family packed up and went to live there just after I graduated grade 12. 

It’s a beautiful state: the mountains, the moose on your front lawn (in the middle of the night, too, so amazing!), and just the views in general. I would go back and visit in a heartbeat – take the Seward Highway past Beluga Point Lookout, drink my BB’s coffee, and have lunch at Alyeska Resort.

Most embarrassing moment at Alphabet®? 
I didn’t know Tony and Cathy were married, so when they each brought in Betsy (their dog) separately, I was a bit confused. 

I asked Hannah, but I didn’t know how to word it since I thought I found out saucy news. Turns out, no saucy news – they are married!

Part two coming soon

Well, that’s the client services department in a nutshell; thanks for taking the time to get to know our team. Stay tuned for next week’s edition of Meet the Alphabeteers, where I’ll introduce you to our tech-savvy team members in the digital and development department. 

If you’d like to know more about Alphabet® and the solutions we provide for our clients, visit our services page and contact us with your questions – our accounts team is happy to chat and learn about your needs.

Cory DavisCopywriter