Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Alarming Advertisements

I saw this post on Extremely Shocking Advertisements and thought it might be interesting to comment on, especially in the wake of last week's anti-abortion billboard controversy.  It seems that most shocking advertisements rally around social issues—after all, it's pretty difficult to get riled up about soup. (Though I, however, seem to be able to do it about tea.) If you go to that first link, you can see all 40, and to the article's credit, they are pretty shocking.  But is that it?

I feel like we need to have a discussion about good shocking vs. bad shocking.  I think "good shocking" would be an advertisement that wakes you up, makes you think about the topic in a different way.  "Bad shocking" is distasteful enough that it's off-putting and all you feel is repelled.  The anti-abortion billboard did that for me because it was entirely racist.  I'm not against having an abortion discussion, however, racism isn't the way to go, especially not during Black History Month.

Here are the ads from that article I did like:

Nothing beats a little kid in a tiger suit, especially when there's a gun being pointed at her.  Oh wait! 

What I like about this is that you immediately have the response the WWF wants you to have: connection with the cute girl in the tiger suit, then fear about the gun being pointed at her.  Since the point is to get you to connect with and feel a stronger emotional connection to the animals on the other side of that gun, this is an effective ad.

Another cute one from the WWF.  Taking familiar icons—the save or don't save buttons, it reminds you that you have a choice to save the very photogenic, angelic orangutan in the image.  Not offensive, or shocking really even, but it does punch home the idea that it's up to you.

This one gutted me.  It's really difficult to see a woman who is a victim of domestic violence, but it's even harder to see one who's older.  Perhaps it's because older people are meant to hold a more privileged, sacred place in our community, or because they seem more fragile to me.  Further, I believe we all have this idea of "this doesn't happen here."  We think that it's only addicts and those with anger management issues that perpetrate domestic abuse, but that's not true.  This is a white, seemingly upper-class woman, who is also a victim, and that is truly shocking.  Very effective.

This one just amused me.  It's a guy in a fox suit!  Tugging on a naked guy!  At first I thought it was just another day in San Francisco, but no, it's an ad about animal rights.  Looking at my entries here, I think animal rights might be a polarizing issue for me: it's so easy to do it well, and even easier to do it poorly.  Domestic abuse, same thing.

Here are one's I didn't like:

Ew.  I get the point: we don't want to do research on monkeys because we wouldn't want it done to us.  Okay.  Except that the picture is icky.  Surgery is taking place in some kind of weird urban setting, rather than a lab, and let's not forget that humans are way more adept at surgery than a monkey would be.  Also, I'm way more comfortable doing research on animals than I am killing them for their skins, so I may not be the target demographic for this, but I think that kind of ad would have gone further.  We can make a viable argument for science, but we can't for poaching.

In a way this is effective.  It's appropriately scary and the monster is repellent enough to the point where we react with "Oh, I wouldn't want that guy alone with my kids!"  However, we don't experience people as monsters.  It would have been far more effective to show the child, because we'd have a stronger protective response and maybe spend more time reading the ad.  The message gets lost for me because I just want to get away from that guy.

Which did you respond to?  Which made you uncomfortable?  Do you think there's a good shocking vs. bad shocking?


  1. The images you've posted aren't full-size; I can't read the copy that goes with the picture. Which is, frankly, problematic.

    Take the fox picture. I can barely make out the tagline, and can't make out the logo at all. Yes, it's an anti-animal cruelty ad, but given the often strange nature of ads, it just as easily could be an ad for a video game or a clothing line.

    It's a little harder to argue that the first image (girl and gun) could be used for, say, a chewing gum ad, but I can't rule it out. Yes, you have a reaction to the cute girl with the gun pointed at her... but look at the perspective of the photo. It's the same 3/4, near-POV perspective that you see in a lot of video-games. So our reaction of anxiety and fear over the menace to the girl is undercut somewhat by the impression that we're the ones behind the gun.

    If your intention was to judge these ads on visuals alone, well, that's a tough standard. The last ad with the monster has enough atmosphere and style that I want to read the text that accompanies the picture, so in that sense it's a success. However, since I can't actually read the text, I can't judge the overall effectiveness of the ad.

    Speaking of text, I think the monkey ad fails in part because of the text I was able read. The message of the image is clear: "this is a bad thing you wouldn't want to have happen to you". The text states a converse of the Golden Rule: 'don't treat others the way you don't want to be treated', making the image redundant with the text. Had the text simply been the golden rule ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you") it would have been more effective, functioning as a call to action instead of a repetition of the theme.

  2. "So our reaction of anxiety and fear over the menace to the girl is undercut somewhat by the impression that we're the ones behind the gun. "

    See, to me that's still effective. As in the "Save" "Don't Save" the power to stop the act is implied to be in the hands of the viewer.

  3. And a larger version of the last ad can be seen here:

  4. Thanks Holly. Blogger trims my images sometimes so that you can't read the small type. If you go to the original article I referenced, some of them download into larger sizes.

    Interesting point, Chris, about the Tiger ad. I don't think it's undercut at all because we're behind the gun; I think that's why it's so great. How horrifying that we'd be aiming the gun at something/someone we feel a connection to. The point is to make us feel the same "Aw, it's so cute! And defenseless!" reaction we have about kids and small animals. The choice is mine to save the cute mark. I don't know if that's entirely effective for you, but it worked on me.

    I totally agree with you about the monkeys. The wording was confusing, tripped me up, and totally failed to deliver the message. I think if they had just used the Golden Rule, it would have been a far more effective campaign.

  5. I find all of these ads effective, and while the monkeys eating brains is offensive to see, it's not about animal testing. There are countries where it's considered a delicacy to cut the skull off of these types of monkeys and eat their brains while the monkeys are still alive. That's the instance of cruelty the ad is against. Which explains why it takes place in a residential setting rather than a lab, and that's why it's not a difference between humans and monkeys performing "surgery".