One of the most complex challenges for brands has always been to interest the public. The shock advertising, using shocking images and controversial, remains one of the tools currently used.
You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. You have to say it in a way that you feel in your gut “Bill Bernbach
We live in a village ecosystem of images, each day we are exposed to thousands. The vast majority come from advertising, and it is only logical that many of them go unnoticed. One of the most used to get attention and get away from the conventions, resources is the the shocking ones. Essentially what is sought is to impact the consumer, create controversy by using controversial images and thus make campaigns.
The impact occurs because it shows what is not normally shown, or it should not show. That is, there is a breakthrough in the scale of values of the individual. Intentionally seeks to startle the audience, and so it is very common that some portion of consumers look offended. At this time it would have to ask to what extent, then, is good or useful to use the shock advertising?
In 2009, Germany’s Supreme Court banned the circulation of these controversial images of a campaign by Peta considering that trivialized the Holocaust.
This type of advertising peaked in the 80’s and 90’s, thanks to the renowned clothing brand United Colors of Benetton. Photographer Oliviero Toscani was commissioned to create the first advertising campaigns that speak openly about issues such as racism, AIDS, and the Gulf War. To Toscani, advertising was required to mention the harshest aspects of reality instead of representing idealized way.
In 2011 Benetton, following the same line marked by Toscani, launches Unhate, a foundation that aims to combat all forms of discrimination, to support the younger generation and show the importance of art as a tool for positive change in society. The idea is to end what they call the culture of hatred. Its first campaign, conducted with the agency 72 and Sunny, was the creation of a series of assemblies appearing in major world leaders kissing. The images, which were intended to be symbolic representations of reconciliation, proved uncomfortable for some sectors of society; one in particular, which appeared at that time Pope Benedict XVI kissing the imam Ahmed Mohamed el Tayeb, who had to be withdrawn after a demand by the Vatican.
The foundation Save the Children entered the list of ads more complaints in 2014 according to the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority), with this video where a woman giving birth with the assistance of a midwife appears.
The public demanded that the images were too disturbing, however, the complaints had no effect and the video went into circulation. In this case the foundation benefited from the commotion caused, because he managed the public’s attention in the first place when the commercial aired, then when complaints were generated and finally when the complaints were not upheld.
This campaign The Pilion Trust Charity seems to prove a point: there is definitely much more effective ways to attract attention and thereby raise awareness. When it comes to motivate new donors, a radical campaign is more useful though it may reach offend some.
But although the shock advertising is used mostly by foundations, it is often used by other brands to sell their products. This is the case of the underwear brand American Apparel, which has been at the centre of controversy due to the creation of which has been qualified as’ contained p**nographic‘ and accused of objectifying women. The scandals that occurred because of different ads, resulting in the dismissal of its CEO Dov Charney. Anyway, it’s difficult to recognize the extent to which that bad publicity is negative or positive. Despite the controversy, on the website of the brand you can read that in some way or another this type of advertising has put them on the map.
Much more interesting is the case of the brewery Brewdog, which launched a controversial line of beers in which the painted face of Russian President Vladimir Putin, known for its strict anti-gay laws appears. The beer was launched in 2014, just at the same time being made the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. Brewdog was clever enough to take advantage of that situation to sell your product, but this also donated 50% of its profits to charities supporting the LGBTI community in Russia.
Then we can see how to use the shock advertising as a resource is not necessarily good or bad. Well it used, able to draw people’s attention, revealing tensions that otherwise would not be. This is clearly seen in the campaign F**k the Poor: not for the crude and politically incorrect message people would have passed them by. However, it is very common to see used as lazy and facile manner. That’s where the dilemma is, although people recognize that something is not quite right in the message to be transmitted (as is the case of American Apparel ads), the brand gets visibility.
That is why the shock advertising is and will continue in effect for who knows how long. This, however, is not enough; it seems that the public appreciated when behind the initial impact is an idea worth.
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