Is Shock Advertising Really Effective?

Is Your Most Unexpected Shock Advertisement Perfectly Effective?

How would you react to an advertisement that shows a priest kissing a nun? It's for the exact reason that shock advertising is used. However, would you consider buying clothes from the same brand? Yeah, that was an ad for a clothing brand.
In today's world, where people are exposed to thousands of advertisements every day, it is becoming extremely challenging for brands to get attention. Many brands are taking the risk and using shock advertising to arouse attention among people. So what exactly is shock advertising? It is deliberately offending or startling people by challenging norms of what is socially, morally and religiously accepted in society. This method is particularly used by philanthropic organizations to give some public service message such as promoting safe sex, discouraging smoking, preventing domestic violence and cruelty against animals, urging people to drive safe and so on. This is all in an attempt to bring about a change in the behavior of people.

Impact of Shock Advertising

Also known as shockvertising, it is often criticized for being an immoral way of getting attention. There are various types of advertising appeals that are used. It includes use of gory images, sexually suggestive references, profanity, vulgarity, religious taboo and moral offensiveness. There is no doubt that such advertisements get attention and people remember it, longer than ads that do not use shock. However, just remembering the ad does not make it effective, it needs to influence people to buy the product or change their behavior. Let's take a look at how far do shock advertisements succeed in influencing the behavior of people.

The Positives...

You watch thousands of advertisements everyday, but how many do you remember? Ever wondered why United Colors of Benetton ads have got so much publicity, then be it the one that shows a black woman breastfeeding a white child or the one with brightly colored condoms. It's the shock elements that have worked in favor of this brand's successful advertising campaigns. Studies suggest that shocking advertisements increase the attention of the audience and also benefit the memory. People are more likely to remember an ad that has shocking content over one that doesn't. It causes a sense of discomfort in people, but if it influences them positively, then it is worth it. If you look at Benetton ads, you will see how social messages can be conveyed in an interesting and effective way. It is said that any publicity is good publicity and interesting ads with a shock element, never fail to get attention. If a brand manages to create hype due to a shocking advertisement, then it has succeeded in its task. Take for example the brand Tuff shoes, an advertisement in the 90s in India, showed a male and female model nude, with a snake wrapped around their body. The ad managed to get so much publicity that people started identifying the brand with the controversial advertisement.

The Negatives...

While there is no doubt that shock advertisements arouse interest initially, but after being exposed to it for some time, people become immune to the shock. The ad does not affect them like the way it did when they first saw it. Most of these ads are highly creative, but not everyone can appreciate it, especially when it offends their moral and religious beliefs. For instance, the British Safety Council advertisement in 1994 showed a Pope with the slogan "The 11th commandment - thou shalt always wear a condom." In many of these ads, the images are so disturbing that many people wouldn't give it a second glance. The best example of this would be an ad by Bernardo's, a British charity foundation, which showed a newborn child with a cockroach crawling out of its mouth. Such shocking ads may work for youngsters but older people are likely to be deeply offended. There have been instances wherein brands go too far in their effort to get attention and in the process mar their reputation. Any advertisement that glorifies sexual abuse is bound to draw heavy criticism. Take the example of the Dolce & Gabbana ad that shows a group of men around a naked man, was taken to suggest gang rape. Also a French anti-smoking campaign for BDDP & Fils showing young children in a compromising position, drew a lot of criticism.

Final Thoughts

People have different views about shock advertisements. It works for some, while some are completely turned off by the disturbing images. If it can be used to fight a social atrocity, then it's definitely worth the hype. However, today it is getting difficult to even shock people. This concept worked extremely well in the 90s, but today advertisers have to work really hard to shock a generation that has grown up watching gore and sexually explicit content, thanks to the easy availability on the Internet.

Advertisements need to be created in such a way that they influence the audience to take action. Many advertisements manage to shock people out of their wits, however, due to overpowering graphics, people often fail to recall the brand name or the product, all they remember is the ad. If this happens, then the whole purpose of advertisement fails. There is a thin line between hard-hitting and downright gross, which needs to be taken care of. The future of shock advertising is bright provided it's used moderately and in the right context.
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