‘Fail’ Generation & Taboo Entertainment

  • A relatively new consumer trait that has emerged amongst the ‘Internet Generation’ is that the young demographic are drawn towards the weird and wonderful in entertainment and advertising. This idea of the ‘fail generation’ is a reference to a popular website amongst young people where people upload videos and images to the website (see http://www.failblog.org) of ‘fails’ that have occurred in banal circumstances in everyday life. In the respondents’ interpretations of some shock advertisements, their statements show that they would pass a shock advertisement on to friends if it proved to be extreme and to break boundaries supports this notion.
  • This idea of taboo entertainment is what can ultimately prove a draw for a shock advertisement amongst the 18 to 34 male demographic. They enjoy watching something different and possibly grotesque and which expresses an extreme activity and represents a base level of entertainment for this demographic.

Fear Appeals in Shock Ads: A Vehicle to Discuss Social Issues

  • 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.

Use of Violent Material/Themes in Advertising and the Media

  • 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.”

The Portrayal of Social Consequences in Fear Appeal Shock Ads

  • Many drink driving awareness campaign vividly depict where the driver at fault is shown in a post car crash vegetable-like state having to be fed by his wife. In portraying such a vivid scenario an indelible mark is left on the viewers – this is what can happen if you don’t heed the warning in the shock advertisement.

Advertisements Analysed in Dissertation

Some of the advertisements I analysed in my dissertation included:

My M.Sc. Marketing Dissertation 2010 Description

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.