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WARNING: Shock Advertising Blog Content

Ok, so we promise not to shock you with disturbing visuals or gut-wrenching content, but we do want to educate readers on the pros and cons of shock advertising and why it could fail in a creative campaign. So, go ahead, keep on reading. You’re in a safe place. 😉

Examples of haunting images of malnourished children in the streets, whimpering puppies in cages and Bloomingdale’s encouraging date rape drugs for Christmas were definitely shocking ad moments posed to be unforgettable. For some companies, like the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), shock advertising can be a great tool to accomplish marketing goals. Others, like Pepsi’s protestor ads and Bloomingdale’s date rape campaign, didn’t quite have the same success. These ad campaigns were ultimately pulled and followed with a public apology.

In 2015 Bloomingdale’s quickly learned that making a bold statement about date rape in their holiday catalog wasn’t the best idea. The copy, “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking” was met with protest from the public and Bloomingdale’s had to deal with the backlash.

Understanding Shock Value

So what is shock advertising and will it work for your business? First, you need to understand what makes shocking campaigns different from other forms of advertising and how to walk the fine line between jarring and outright offensive.

Shock advertising or Shockvertising is created to grab attention with disturbing visuals or blatantly bold content that engages, stirs emotion and hopefully creates an emotional connection so that viewers follow the call to action, whether it is donating money or buy a product. As the name implies, they are designed to be purposefully shocking, create controversy and often use violence, conflict or taboos to engage.

From activist groups to the fashion industry, we have seen all types of organizations use this approach to get the word out. While some have found more success than others this is no new type of marketing tactic and can make or break a companies reputation.

Know your Audience

There are pros and cons to advertising with jarring content and companies may fall short of their intention. Compared to other ads with solution-finding tactics, ads are usually created with the same goal, however using a more positive approach. It’s easy to cross a line when you don’t understand your audience. It’s a good idea to have an experienced marketing team conduct research about your target audience before making bold decisions about your brand. Understanding consumer behavior is a must.

One of the most successful shock advertisements we’ve seen in recent years was Patagonia’s “Don’t buy this jacket” campaign. At first, it’s odd to think of a company encouraging its consumers not to buy their product. However, when you think about their consumers, who are often associated with climate change, activism and political issues, a sustainability campaign makes perfect sense. The company ultimately saw a 30% increase in revenue in 2012 making it one of the most successful shock advertising cases to date. Patagonia understood its audience.

Establish Reasonable Goals

What is it that you are trying to accomplish? If you want an ad to go viral for the sake of going viral, proceed with caution. More often than not, controversial content can have a negative impact on your company’s image, which could result in loss of revenue. Take the time to thoroughly think through the effect and consequences that shock advertising may have on your viewers. For example, many industries have consistent protesters who are armed with tweeting power and ready to challenge a controversial post. Whether you are promoting bacon for breakfast or plastic shipping materials, be prepared to think outside the box to determine the best way to navigate those waters. It can easily have a reverse reaction to a campaign without a proper strategy in place.

Many non-profits use shock advertising with the goal of emotionally connecting with viewers to solicit donations. For years, we have seen the ASPCA flash unsettling photos of abused animals, showcasing a popular public figure and replaying a sad tune to tug at heartstrings. Almost a decade later, it’s still impossible to not hear “In the Arms of an Angel” when you think of the ASPCA and think of Sarah McLachlan asking for your help.

Shock or Not to Shock, that is the Question

Explore all of your other marketing options and creative campaigns before settling on a shock advertising campaign for your brand. While it feels exciting to do something bold, there may be something that makes more sense for your advertising. Consider thought-provoking versus shocking. Tap into the pain points of your audience and how to solve problems in your industry.

Ultimately, shock advertising can be a great way to get people’s attention but it’s important that that you weigh the risks, explore your options and make sure that you seek professional consultation communication experts. Understanding consumer behavior, what’s on-trend these days, and how to get the best bang for your buck is essential to a successful campaign. Small businesses can focus on an affordable digital campaign that has the right balance of shock value to move the needle with a positive goal. Remember, what you put online can essentially live on the internet forever. Public apologies won’t always fix a broken message after your ad goes viral. If you need a creative consultation, Mad Hat Maven can help and your first consultation is free.

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