Shock Advertising – How Startling/Offending Audiences Is More Effective Than You Would Think

Shock Advertising or Shockvertsing is a form of advertising that intentionally tries to shock, startle and offend the viewer of the ad. Shock Ads try to a create a strong response from the audience by displaying something controversial or offensive. Shock Advertising tends to be used to spread awareness about social issues like domestic abuse, drug use, sexual abuse, animal cruelty, etc; which have a negative connotation attached to it.

WWF – Tsumani Campaign, 2009

Image 1: WWF Ad about a tsunami in Brazil that killed 100 times more people than 9/11

For example, ‘Image 1’ is a campaign by the WWF(World Wildlife Fund) where they try to create awareness to help the victims of a tsunami in Brazil in 2009. It is an image of New York City with a plethora of airplanes on course to collide with the it’s famous skyline. The WWF here, are trying grasp the attention of the audience by making a light of one of the major terrorist incidents in recent history. It tries to inform the audience about the severity of the disaster in a very unsettling way. This creates a response for the audience, whether it be positive or negative, which is essentially the whole point of Shock Ads.

Shocks Ads tend not to be used to actually sell products, but rather to create awareness for a cause or generate publicity for a company. Shock Advertising can be a very effective tool for companies to use for publicity, if done right. The premise of Shock Advertising is creating emotional responses in the audience.

A controversial ad will most likely offend a lot of people. These people will feel the need to voice their objection to the content because they probably feel very strongly about topic which the Shock Ad deals with.  This breeds debate, as other people will have contradicting views about the same controversial ad. With the emergence of social media, people have many more platforms to discuss these Ads. Very controversial Ads even get media coverage because of the outrage that they cause (see the United Colors of Benetton Ad below). This is an effective form of publicity because it a leaves an impression on the audience.

Shock Ads do also lead to a lot people avoiding the brand because they disagree with it’s beliefs. Even so, Shock ads create an emotional connection between the brand and it’s customers.  Which in turns increases the brand loyalty of the customers. This loyalty might because of the brand personality rather than the product it sells, but it still leads to sales eventually, because the brand value (added value of a product in the mind of the consumer) of those products are much more than they might have been.

United Colors Of Benetton – Unhate Campaign, 2011

Image 2 : United Colors Of Benetton’s Unhate Campaign

The Unhate campaign by United Colors Of Benetton was in support of the Unhate Foundation. A large campaign of image and video ads were released all around the world. This was one of the most controversial Ads ever. The Unhate foundation seeks to contribute to. The ads by UCOB(United Colors Of Benetton) uses Homosexuality to send the message. Which tends to be an uncomfortable subject anyway, but UCOB took it one step further by portraying world leaders Barrack Obama, Angela Merkel, Pope Benedict XVI, imam Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, etc. UCOB were made to take the Ads down very swiftly and legal action was taken against them by the Vatican.

This campaign is a perfect example for Shock Adverts. The purpose of the campaign was the spread awareness for the Unhate Foundation. It also sends the message of World Peace because the portraying World leaders kissing is a symbolic gesture of peace between nations. Even though UCOB were made to take down the ads, they received a lot of a media coverage because of the controversial content. It was also a trending topic with a large amount of people talking about it.

Shock Advertising does have it’s disadvantages, but the benefits are ample enough for people to start using it more than it is. Social cause remain the major section in which it is used, and while the a very good cause, there is vast scope for its use in other ways as I have explained above. If nothing else, Shocks Ads get people thinking, which is always good.


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