It’s Shocking What Some People Think Is Good Advertising — And It’s A Good Thing They Do

That ad is shocking — isn’t it?  But it’s no accident, either. It supposed to shock you! After seeing that ad, are you likely to talk on the phone to someone who tells you she or he is driving in her car? Do you want their blood on your hands?

The reason shock advertising doesn’t repel but actually grabs us is because of the emotional reaction–even the offense–we feel when we see images that violate societal norms.  Over the years, some successful ads have gone beyond the limits of taste, even decency, to shock us out of our seats and get us to take action.

Critically acclaimed photographer Oliviero Toscani used shocking images to transform the face of advertising throughout the 80’s and 90’s in his campaigns for Italian fashion brand Benetton. Combining social commentary with the harsh reality of business, Toscani pushed the envelope by depicting the not-so-glamorous reality of dying AIDS patients and anorexic fashion models.

According to Toscani, “there isn’t such a thing as a shocking picture, there is shocking reality that is being reproduced through photography to the people who aren’t there.”

Toscani’s boldness has inspired advertisers to rethink the boundaries of the advertising industry. Several communication firms, advertising agencies and NGOs have used juxtaposed images or gruesome visual metaphors to create gripping social advertisements and campaigns.

In 2006, human rights advocacy group Amnesty International created the “It’s Not Happening Here, But It’s Happening Now” campaign in Sweden. Based out of Zurich, advertising agency walker Werbeagentur created 200 posters to sensitize people to human rights abuses, as well as to create a forum to discuss these atrocities that occur every day. This ingenious campaign brought brutal scenes onto the streets of Zurich, artfully blending the subjects of abuse into the otherwise ordinary urban environment.

So, do these kinds of arresting but profoundly disturbing ads work?

Here are several other notable campaigns from agencies around the world (click to enlarge):


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See the rest of Bored Panda’s list of powerful social advertisements here.

Posted: August 15, 2014
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