Following the release of the latest United Colours of Benetton shock-vertising campaign featuring photoshopped images of religious and political leaders kissing, I thought an interesting and thought provoking blog would be to consider the effectiveness of adverts that are built to offend.
With this in mind, scholars have been arguing for decades whether shock-vertising is actually effective or not. The shock can come from the subject of the advertisement, e.g. promoting awareness of a controversial topic, or the way in which the messages are portrayed, through inappropriate images or language (fcuk for French Connection).
You can’t talk about shocking advertisements without referencing United Colours of Benetton former advertising manager Oliviero Toscani, who rather than using the outlet to promote the company, used controversial and sometimes offensive campaigns stemmed from a large budget, as a vehicle to demonstrate his alternative political views, in my opinion.
Although shocking advertisements are said to be more memorable than general advertising campaigns, brands need to consider the practical implications of using communication in this manner. How far can the line be stretched before controversial advertisements become down right offensive? Although memorable, in the shock tactic it has been argued that the product or brand is forgotten, and merely the image or reactions to it are remembered.
Reports have discovered that generally western nations are more at ease with shock-vertising, in comparison to eastern destinations such as China who were a lot less accepting of the offensive content. In general however, most people within surveys conducted gave negative reviews to those that displayed sexually orientated body images.
United Colours of Benetton fell foul during their final campaign with Oliviero Toscani, which featured death row prisoners in America combined with the slogan “sentenced to death” drawing attention to the fact that despite the crimes committed, they are still human. As soon as the adverts were released, families of the victims of the prisoners bombarded Benetton with complaints and outrage, which involved riots around Benetton stockists. Following this reaction Benetton was dropped from their main stockists Sears, and terminated the tenure for Toscani with the brand. Due to Toscani, failing to realise where the line within advertising was, United Colours of Benetton are rarely found in stores in the southern states of America, closing a massive portion of potential profits for the brand.
Considering the implications and impact that your advertisements will have on members of the public is important when beginning any advertising campaign. This is especially important however, when embarking upon a controntroversial campaign.
You don’t need to cause controversy to create memorable advertisements. Often having a humourous advert, that really makes a large audience laugh can be just as effective, without all the ramifications that controversial adverts create. Coors Light, created a massively popular comic advertising campaign using the Van Damme, which is keenly remembered and quoted often. Sugary sweet company “The Natural Company” saw their ‘Bring on the trumpets’ line used constantly while the adverts aired as the random nature of the advert made viewers laugh.
We created an advertisement for our client, who had a number of complements, for what is a very targeted advert for a small audience.
Adverts such as these show that you can create as much impact by making people laugh, as you can by offending them. This is why it is important to consider if you have the time to deal with the drama.