Now I remember.
Known as Shock Advertising (or Shockvertising, but that just sounds silly), this method of reaching an audience is intended to offend you. These campaigns shock viewers by showing graphic imagery in a way that can’t be ignored. Here are several examples of shock advertising. (Warning: the imagery here is, in fact, shocking. Surprised?)
The success of this form of advertising is arguable. PETA is notorious for their often highly publicized shock tactics, but the ads are usually met with mocking response rather than the need to act. In some cases this form of advertising has been very successful. For instance, the FCUK campaign (French Connection UK) managed to generate a reported $4 million from their efforts. In other cases the ads were so offensive that they were pulled within a day of being released or even printed. Such was the case with United Way’s statutory rape ads.
This method is used to generate awareness of a cause, but more often than not it devolves into personal attacks. This problem has been appearing most recently in anti-smoking advertising, which seems less intent on exposing smokers to the dangers of their habit, and more interested in insulting and deriding them for having the habit in the first place.
It’s this that causes my dislike of shock advertising or, more appropriately, shock advertisers. While I can understand their arguments (“It only shows what’s really happening.”) and reasoning (“In such a media-saturated world, this is the only way people will notice.”) I feel that more often than not shock advertising degenerates into an opportunity to visually accuse and insult, all while masquerading under a cause.
Personally, I am not a fan of shock advertising. While I believe it has its place, I feel that it is often misused and ineffective. To me, there is a line when advertising for a cause or belief. There are times when shock advertising is effective, and in my opinion those times are when the ad generates sympathy, compassion, and the desire to help, not when it invokes fear, revulsion, and resentment. Works such as this Unicef ad inspire sympathy. While the ad is still shocking, it isn’t overwhelming or revolting. This is an advertisement that draws me in and asks for my help, while so many other ads alienate me and… mostly make me want to punch whoever made it in the face.
At what point is the shock taken too far? When does the advertisement become as abhorrent as the problem it tries to solve? When does it fail to inspire and begin to revolt and alienate? This line is a fine one. It’s easily crossed. You stand to gain the attention of people who are unaware of the problem, but you also stand to alienate your audience. The real question is, where is that line?