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Shockvertising

Does shockvertising, with its use of strong images and themes, really work on consumers?
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Shock advertising or “shockvertising” is the use of frightening, offensive, taboo, or emotion-provoking words, images, or concepts to sell a product or an idea. It sometimes works, but sometimes it elicits such negative reactions that the reader or viewer avoids the product—and sometimes both the product and its maker—entirely.

Clothing giant Benetton is one example of a company that has embraced shockvertising by using institutions and subjects that advertisers normally avoid: churches (a priest and a nun kissing), sex (a black stallion mounting a white mare), and prisons (interviews about an inmate’s thoughts as he faces death). Its campaigns have reaped public criticism, but at the same time they have made its products more popular by generating enough curiosity and interest.

But are the more demure Filipinos ready for shockvertising? “Yes they are,” says Jos Ortega, chairman and chief executive of BrandLab Inc., a branding strategy company. “On the contrary, it is us campaign developers and the approving parties [advertisers] who are not yet ready.”

WHEN 'SHOCKVERTISING' WORKS

The key to shockvertising is mixing shock with humor “to get away with it.” Baygon’s “Mating” ad, created by BBDO Guererro Ortega, shows two cockroaches having sex with the suggestive song Afternoon Delight playing in the background.

Toward the end of the ad, the message “Time for Some Birth Control” appears on the screen, so although the ad focuses on some insects’ sexual activities, the humorous message at the end overturns the initial shock and pushes the product’s real message: wiping out cockroaches.

Incorporating values in your shock ads also helps. The Body Shop’s “Ruby” poster ad, launched in 1998, shows a nude female doll with bulging proportions, and it was banned in the U.S. after a man shopping in a mall said it had traumatized his daughter. Overall, however, the ad generated positive feedback because it aimed at boosting women’s self-esteem.

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“The shock was meant for the increasing number of women whose concept of beauty is an anorexic figure, which should not be the case,” says Emmanuel del Rosario, chief executive of The Body Shop in the Philippines. Indeed, the ad celebrates the meaning of true beauty, and it makes a statement on what true branding is all about by appealing to customers’ emotions.

MAKING IT WORK FOR YOU

To make shockvertising work at all, grab the consumers’ attention but avoid turning them off. Next, present one central proposition. 

Then support your central proposition with your brand story. (To make its campaigns more credible, The Body Shop never uses celebrities and models in its ads but ordinary people including sales staff.) Remember that there’s a fine line between being direct but tasteful and using shocking images and copy unnecessarily:

Tasteful shock advertising will always make its point if there’s a good and clear reason for the shock it’s using. “And never forget that shock works only for brands that link back to the brand’s values; otherwise you’ll end up just shocking the viewers,” says Ortega.

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