Posts Tagged ‘advertising’

Wail, fail, whale.


Several socially-minded adverts have attracted headlines recently because of their impact, their shock-factor. We have seen the Asian Tsunami compared, in airplanes, to 9-11, and have been told that contracting Aids is really just like shagging Hitler. Now, both of these examples may well be crude/thoughtless/inexcusable, but you can see how they have come to exist.

Generally speaking ‘impact’ is a weak, but not uncommon way of measuring the performance of a piece of marketing. Surprise is good, right? Moreover, adverts for ‘good causes’ have always been given more license to shock than conventional ads: the received wisdom is that if it saves people/animals/trees then it can’t be a bad thing.  And so, around the world people my age have been raised on a visual diet of heart-stopping clips and head-turning posters, all well-meaning (and there are shed-loads of examples here).  Familiar as we are with such things, perhaps it is not surprising that the people behind these campaigns feel they have to work ever harder to shock us. Take this ultra-realistic Welsh video for example. It has been lauded for its force and passed around social networks, but when you watch it, it is hard to imagine there is much further to go.

The key difference between the earlier ads and this clip, of course, is that they generated their shock from an external source, from something tangential to the issue that they set out to address. That is why they were derided, whilst it was applauded. It seems we do not mind being shaken, so long as the cause is directly related to the cause: it is ok to put images of toxic lungs on packets of cigarettes, but not other, similarly repulsive images. Like pooh.

But if plain, old blood and guts does not cut the mustard anymore, and these organisations cannot just import a taboo topic, how else can they get our attention?

Well, the truth is that there are plenty of ways to do so, but they may just require a bit of skill or ingenuity (often sadly lacking at an ad agency, especially one that is working for free). Here are three decent routes, to finish:

Shock from simplicity of execution – We have long known that realism is often not the best way to convey strength of emotion. Consider the dynamic text in this chilling video from the Christian Right in America, or in this animated version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for instance.

Shock from fooling the audience – For many of us, there is nothing more shocking than being caught out or shown up, as is the case with this pair of adverts from Transport for London.

Shock from focusing on the positive – This road safety advert from Atlanta and this web application from the WDCS both cleverly draw attention to the value of that-which-we-could-lose, rather than the loss itself. Being reminded of those things we take for granted can often be a shock in itself.


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