Shock advertising

Shock advertising

Shock advertising is a type of advertising generally regarded as one that “deliberately, rather than inadvertently, startles and offends its audience by violating norms for social values and personal ideals.” [Dahl, Darren W. et al. [ "Does it pay to shock? Reactions to Shocking and Nonshocking Advertising Content among University Students"] Journal of Advertising Research 43 (2003): 268-280. Page 268, Retrieved January 22, 2008] Shock advertising is designed principally to break through the advertising “clutter” to capture attention and create buzz, and also to attract an audience to a certain brand or bring awareness to a certain public service issue, health issue, or cause (e.g., urging drivers to use their seatbelts, promoting STD prevention, bringing awareness of racism and other injustices, or discouraging smoking among teens). [Waller, David S. [ "What factors make controversial advertising offensive?: A Preliminary Study"] ANZCA (2004): 1-10. Page 1, Retrieved January 23, 2008] This form of advertising is often controversial, disturbing, explicit and crass, and may entail bold and provocative political messages that challenge the public’s conventional understanding of the social order. This form of advertising may not only offend but can also frighten as well, using scare tactics and elements of fear to sell a product or deliver a public service message, making a "high impact." In the advertising business, this combination of frightening, gory and/or offensive advertising material is known as "shockvertising" and is often considered to have been pioneered by Benetton, the Italian clothing retailers which created the line United Colors of Benetton, and its advertisements in the late 1980s (see Benetton below). [Righton, Barbara. [ "When did television commercials become as violent as the programming they interrupt?"] December 18, 2006. Retrieved January 26, 2008]

The Shock Factor

Shock advertisements can be shocking and offensive for a variety of reasons, and violation of social, religious, and political norms can occur in many different ways. They can include a disregard for tradition, law or practice (e.g., lewd or tasteless sexual references or obscenity), defiance of the social or moral code (e.g., vulgarity, brutality, nudity, or profanity) or the display of images or words that are horrifying, terrifying, or repulsive (e.g., gruesome or revolting scenes, or violence). [Dahl 2003, p.268] . Some advertisements may be considered shocking, controversial or offensive not because of the way that the advertisements communicate their messages but because the products themselves are "unmentionables" not to be openly presented or discussed in the public sphere. [Waller 2004, p.2] Examples of these “unmentionables” may include cigarettes, feminine hygiene products, or contraceptives. [Waller 2004, p.2] However, there are several products, services or messages that could be deemed shocking or offensive to the public. For example, advertisements for weight loss programs, sex/gender related products, clinics that provide AIDS and STD testing, funeral services, groups that advocate for less gun control, casinos which naturally support and promote gambling could all be considered controversial and offensive advertising because of the products or messages that the advertisements are selling. [Waller 2004, p.2] Shocking advertising content may also entail improper or indecent language, like French Connection's “FCUK” campaign.

Effects on Consumers

Advertisers, psychiatrists, and social scientists have long debated the effectiveness of shock advertising. One finding suggests “shocking content in an advertisement significantly increases attention, benefits memory, and positively influences behavior.” [Dahl 2003, p.265] The same study also shows that consumers are more likely to remember shocking advertising content over advertising content that is not shocking. [Dahl 2003, p.268] However, there is still little information on whether shock advertising directly leads to an increase in sales revenue or to changes in behavior. There are social scientists, psychiatrists, media scholars, and child and family advocates who fear that overexposure to shock advertising will result in a public that is “desensitized” to advertisements that employ shock tactics, particularly those with overtly sexual and violent images.



Benetton has come under particular scrutiny for the use of shock advertisements in its campaigns, leading to public outrage and consumer complaints. [Dahl 2003, p.268-270] However, several of Benetton’s advertisements have also been the subject of much praise for heightening awareness of significant social issues and for “taking a stand” against infringements on human rights, civil liberties, and environmental rights. [Zumbansen, Peer. [ "Federal Constitutional Court Rejects Ban on Benetton Shock Ads: Free Expression, Fair Competition and the Opaque Boundaries Between Political Message and Social Moral Standards."] German Law Journal No. 1 (2001) Retrieved January 26, 2008] Benetton’s advertisements have featured images of portions of men’s and women’s bodies with tattoos that say “HIV Positive”, a Black woman breastfeeding a White infant (which could be celebrated as a championing image of racial diversity or raising awareness of racial issues yet was also denounced for its historical connotations when Black women, during slavery, were often required to become caretakers for White children), a priest and a nun leaning to kiss each other, as well as a group of real death row inmates (alluding to issues concerning capital punishment). Other shocking advertisements released by Benetton include an image of a duck covered an oil (addressing issues of oil spillage and the cleanliness of oceans), a man dying of AIDS, a soldier holding a human bone, as well as a newborn infant still attached to its umbilical cord, which "was intended as an anthem to life, but was one of the most censured visuals in the history of Benetton ads." [ [ Campaign History of United Colors of Benetton] ] Oliviero Toscani, a photographer for Benetton who contributed to many of its shocking advertisements, said, regarding the advertisement he created of a man dying from AIDS, that he wanted "to use the forum of poster advertising to make people aware of this [AIDS] tragedy at a time when no-one dared to show AIDS patients." [Pegrum, Mark. [ "A Big Disease with a Little Name"] 1 (1997)]

Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein of Calvin Klein Jeans has also received media attention for its controversial advertisements in the mid-1990s. Several of Calvin's Klein's advertisements featured images of teenage models, some "who were reportedly as young as 15" in overly sexual and provocative poses. [ [ Calvin Klein: A Case Study] ] Although Klein insisted that these advertisements were not pornographic, some considered the campaign as a form of "soft porn" that was exploitative, shocking, and suggestive. In 1999, Calvin Klein was the subject of more controversy when it aired advertisements of young children who were only wearing the brand's underwear. This "kiddie underwear ad campaign" was pulled only one day after it aired as a result of public outlash. [Peters, Robert. [ "Kiddie Porn" Controversy"] ] A spokesperson from Calvin Klein insisted that these ads were intended "to capture the same warmth and spontaneity that you find in a family snapshot." [ [ Calvin Klein: A Case Study] ]

"Get Unhooked" Anti-smoking Ads

In May 2007, the UK National News reported that the British government banned anti-smoking advertisements that were part of the "Get Unhooked" campaign because they caused "fear and distress" in children. [ [ Government anti-smoking ads banned] ] These public service advertisements featured in magazines, television, and on the internet displayed images of smokers' faces and lips being hooked with fish hooks "to illustrate how they were 'hooked' on cigarettes." Although this campaign received hundreds of complaints citing that the advertisements were offensive, disturbing and violent, the Department of Health was reported as saying that the "Get Unhooked" campaign was "highly effective." [ [ Government anti-smoking ads banned] ]

ee also

* Advertising
* Sex in advertising


External links

* [ Offensive but effective?]
* [ Advertising and Commercials: Using Fear and Scare Tactics to Sell]

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