- Shock advertising and fear appeals retain the potential to act as a means of discussing social issues that may be considered taboo subject matters or those which may be ignored by the wider public. Some drink driving awareness advertisements have been seen to be extreme but this has also meant that the social issue has become an everpresent topic of debate in the public domain. This in turn aids in the taboo subject matters being discussed more freely and social issues and anxieties faced up to and dealt with.
In New Zealand, after a particularly wet season road deaths had risen considerably. The advertisement here bleeds when it rains. When it rains, red liquid pours out of the billboard and out of seemingly cuts on the child’s face.
- Violent material is most often used in advertising in a similar way that sexual explicit material is used; to gain attention and notoriety. Much of the use of violence in advertising in Ireland exhibits itself in the prevalence of video game or sporting events on television or other media forms.
“HELLO. France welcomes her English friends. We look forward to a nice 100th anniversary match.”
Some of the advertisements I analysed in my dissertation included:
A Shock to the System! An Investigation into the dynamic nature and use of Shock Advertising in Marketing towards the 18 to 34 male demographic: ‘generation kill’
The flurry of media attention towards shock advertisements has yet to recede in Ireland and in other countries as boundaries continue to be broken and reset by them. Controversies have arisen with the use of sex in advertising, the recent Hunky Dorys advertising campaign, violent themes in advertising, the resurgence of mixed martial arts (MMA) and its main proprietary organisation the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and the much academically discussed fear appeal advertisements. This media and academic discussion alike has only served to highlight the vast array of media forms that shock advertising can take. This form of advertising is not for the faint hearted, sensitive or conservative creed; ‘this is the real world of advertising’.
It begs the question, is shock advertising, and the advertisers that creatively execute it for a living, taking things too far? An obvious retort is yes. The perceived offense, controversy and complaints though belie the meticulous creative strategies that form them. Shock advertising by its very nature is boundary breaking, taboo-like, provocative, and deliberately offensive. This is why it has been deemed to map well onto the psyche of the 18 to 34 male; ‘generation kill’.
This paper reviews the academic literature that contributes to the understanding of the various advertising appeals adopted in shock advertising, focusing on unearthing shock advertising in all its guises. Given the wide range of emotions that shock advertising can evoke, in investigating this dynamic and polarising form of advertising, a more all encompassing and holistic understanding of it is required, and above all a desensitised ‘no holds barred’ 21st Century understanding.