By: Jocelyn Schwalm
When deviating outside of social norms, is it possible ad companies have gone too far? Shock advertisers use psychology to their advantage, knowing that the deeper the disturbance they cause, the more likely people are going to pay attention. Shock advertising has been under controversy for its gruesome tactics and fear mongering used in getting the general public to pay attention.
With 500 billion dollars being spent yearly on advertisements and 3,000 advertisements being observed daily, advertisers feel the need to get their message across in the most desperate of ways. Advertisers want their ad to be the one remembered, and it seems that many don’t know where to draw the line, willing to cross both ethical and moral boundaries.
There are seven categories of “shockvertising”: Disgusting images, sexual references, profanity, obscenity/vulgarity, impropriety, moral offensiveness and religious taboos. Each of these delivers with it some sort of benefit to the advertisers in terms of the image being at the forefront of consumers’ minds. Shock tactics seem to replace the need for large budgets as the tactics themselves serve as momentous markers, regardless of the grandeur of the advertisement. These campaigns usually pay off in terms of monetary value as well.
Charities looking for donations who used shock advertising were extremely successful, with observers saying they’d be “very likely” to donate to the charities after viewing the ads. However, there are times where the use of shock value in advertisements has backfired. When society norms are violated, people tend to have somewhat of an adverse reaction. If consumers grow angry at a company for causing a mental disturbance, the result will most likely be lower sales, or in the case of a charity, donations.
If an advertisement is trying to shock consumers through imagery, the consumers mentally brushing it off, comfortable with the mindset that they “are not that bad,” often the thought process will be that they don’t fit within the parameters of the advertisement’s key demographic. These companies need to be watchful of how many times these commercials are being played, because the more exposure will result in the public ignoring the ads altogether.
The act of fear-mongering is used for charities but also primarily provoking in the sense that they are trying to direct the public’s thoughts through fear. Although some are used for good, the idea is to shape ideas through fear. Unfortunately, it seems that companies are not about to stop using these tactics just because of the unethical aspects, but the key is to be conscious of what is shaping our views and to look at these advertisements through a lens of apprehension.