Something every Canadian knows (and quite a few other people as well), is that Anne of Green Gables is a skinny, fiery, red-head girl of 10 or 11.

Unfortunately for one Createspace Independent Publisher, a re-make of Anne’s image has backfired on a catastrophic level.   The 16-year old buxom blonde  farm-girl with “come-hither” eyes, so outraged loyal fans of the series as to elicit hundreds of negative reviews on and be covered in media across Canada – including Canada’s top business newspaper The Globe and Mail.

This is a clear example of where shock marketing can be seen to be an iconic blunder.  Marketers have long used the tactic of being controversial and outrageous to create attention to something.

The recent T-shirt campaign of “Nothing is sorrier than living in Surrey” is a great example of where controversy sells.  Loyal Surrey lovers flocked to support,  while those opposed jokingly sported the T-shirt.  Everyone laughed.  But shock value can back-fire when it goes to the heart of what people know if simply offensive and outrageous.

Three tips on deciding if controversy will work in your favour.

  1. People should feel good engaging in the debate.   Will it make them laugh?  Will it engage people’s loyalty?
  2. Great controversy makes sense.   There’s a statement or point to be made that inspires people.  You don’t sell a young reader’s book with sexy blond on the cover.  It’s just bad taste.
  3. Don’t mess with an icon.  You wouldn’t make Martin Luther King a skinny white guy, don’t make Anne of Green Gables a buxom blond.  Some things are just in such poor taste that they will backfire every time!  It may sell more Anne of Green Gable’s books, but people will avoid this version like the plague.  Somewhere a publisher is stuck with several thousand copies of a book that just won’t move!

So think twice before you wade into altering an image that society has grown to love.   Some mistakes are un-recoverable.