Cultural Sensitivity & De-Sensitisation of the Masses

The issue of cultural sensitivity and the de-sensitisation of the Irish population to media is central to the understanding of shock advertising and advertising in general. The manner in which the respondents constructed meaning and reasoned why shock advertisements sometimes work and don’t work pointed to a number of issues relating de-sensitisation of the masses thanks in part due to advertising:

  • Whether a shock advertisement is deemed sociable acceptable and appropriate by the mass public is determined by whether the advertisement is shown pre or post watershed when shown on television.
  • A shock advertisement must be seen to be considerate of the wider public audience and not only the intended target market.
  • The increasing immunity levels of the mass public audience mean shock advertising will become less of an issue; the population is becoming increasingly desensitised to advertising.

In delineating a relationship between the three points outlined above, the respondents’ perception is that for shock advertisements to become socially acceptable, it must be shown post-watershed if it is of an extreme graphic nature. But for a shock advertisement to actually serve its purpose and shock the intended target market, it must be of an appropriately shocking nature that it will break through the clutter in advertising and also break through the ‘immunity barrier’ in the population. The term ‘immunity barrier’; a term coined by this author, is what shock advertisements are creatively executed on, as ‘immunity barriers’ will vary depending on the cultural and societal setting.


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