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Shock Advertising - offensive or Effective?

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Shock Advertising. Offensive or Effective?

Shock advertising is a type of advertising generally regarded as one that 'delibertaly' startles and offends its audience (Gustafson & Yssel, 1994; Venkat & Abi-Hanna, 1995), through violating norms or social values and personal ideals (brandcameo:online). Shock advertising is principally desgined to break through the advertising 'clutter' and create 'buzz'. Offense is elicited through the process of norm violation, encompassing transgession of law and custom (e.g. indecent sexual reference, obscenity), breaches of a moral social code (e.g. profanity, vulgarity), or things that otrage the or physical senses (e.g. gratutious violence, disgusting images).

It is clear that some advertising purposly breaches social norms with the intent to shock its consumer. Widely known examples include the advertising campaigns produced by the brand Benetton. The italian clothier is seen by many as the master of the shock technique. On many occasions over the last 20 years the brand has produced a campaign to remind us that nothing is scared to the media.

Benetton's advertising philosophy is based on Luciano Benetton's belief that ' communication should not be commissioned from outside the company, but conceived from within it's heart'. The brands controverisal path began in 1986. The campaign depicted below was an image of 'happy groups of multiracial kids replaced by couples' representing an alternative interpretation to difference.

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Many Benetton adverts from this period depicted issues that were seen as taboo, the brand then put these images in the main stream media to protray a social message, challenge norms and create conroversy. Consequently it became clear to the brand that dealing with the issue of differnce within the process of advertising was not an easy task. The image below represents religious and political conflict (Palistian and Israeli). The adverts dennotes two males dressed in sterotypical religious clothing from each of the countries. The two figures are standing in close proximity to each other with their hands around a globe connoting unity, a term rarely used to describe the two nations that notoriasly do not get on. Benetton sort to portray a concept of bringing together different races through the idea of tolerance, peace and respect for diversity within its adverts.

A previous Benetton ad campaign represented religious and sexual conflict (e.g. a priest kissing a nun), while another portrayed moral conflict. The latter addresses the stereotypes of good and evil, which were depicted through connotations of an angel and the devil. The image below dennotes two young girls, one corcasion whose curly blonde hair and 'cute' smile signfiy an angel and one black girl whose 'serious' stare and hair connotes the devil sterotype. In contrast to fig1. This advert appears to be shocking its audience for controvierisal sake. There appears to be no specific message only the idea of angel and devil sterotypes.

Fig 2.

One of the brands most controversial ad campaigns was the image depicted below, a real aids patient on his death bed. Shocking for its timing when the world was just beginning to grasp the horror of HIV.

Fig 3.

Pior to that the brand addressed race relations, specifically 'a close up of black nursing a white baby', it explotied the slavery era, when black slaves were supposed to nurse their owner's white baby. This campaign generated controvery and subsequently increased brand awareness.

Fig 4.

According to Oliviero Toscani, the photograph behind the brands campaigns since the early 1980's, all of the conflicts that the brand addressed were based on taboo's. It seems that by acconologing these differnces, the brand appeared to care more about creating controvery than fashion. Previously the product was always the main focus with the social message being subservant, however as the brand realised shock advertising was creating more awareness than the product itself the 'produc't gradually disappear from the advertisements. The advertisment discussed have previously won awards for heightening public awareness of social issues, signifying that shock advertising has proved effective for the United Colours of Benetton brand.

With success came consumer complaints suggesting that the ads provoked outrage. Recently an add appeared for a line of Benetton clothing featuring death row inmates (independent.com:online).



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