Shockvertising: Does it work?


By: JUSTINE P. CASTELLON / Consumer Strategist

Shock advertising or “shockvertising” is the use of fightening, offensive, taboo, and emotion-provoking words, images or concepts to sell a product or an idea. They are meant to nail the consumers’ scanning mode and wandering attention— the initial shock invariably burns the accompanying brand name into the viewer’s memory. If not done properly though, objectionable ads may elicit such negative emotions (i.e. fear, anger or disgust) that the buyer ends up avoiding the product or the company entirely.

Clothing giant Benetton is an example of a company that has used shockvertising to its fullest. It uses institutions that advertisers normally stay away from—churches (a priest and a nun kissing), sex (a black stallion mounting a white mare), and even prisons (their “We, On Death Row” ads include interviews about the inmate’s thoughts and dreams as they face death.) While the campaign may have reaped public criticism along the way, it made their products more popular and generated enough curiosity and interest, which later translated to sales.

But are Pinoy consumers (who are generally more conservative than their Western counterparts) ready for shockvertising?

“Yes they are,” says Jos Ortega, Chairman and CEO of BrandLab Inc., a branding strategy company. “On the contrary, it is us campaign developers and the approving parties (advertisers) who are not ready yet.”

The key is mixing shock with humor “to get away with it.” For example, Baygon’s “Mating” ad created by BBDO Guererro Ortega showed two cockroaches having sex with the suggestive song “Afternoon Delight” playing in the background. Towards the end of the ad, the message was “Time for Some Birth Control” appeared on the screen. So although the ad focused on insects’ sexual activities, the humorous message at the end overturned the initial shock; plus, it went back to the product’s core message—killing the entire population of cockroaches, including the next generation of cockroach eggs—so the audience immediately got it.

Putting values into your shock ads also help. One example is The Body Shop’s “Ruby” poster ad, which showed a nude doll with bulging proportions. Launched in 1998, this ad was even banned after one mall patron in the US said his daughter had been traumatized by seeing it. Overall, however, the ad generate positive feedback because it aimed to boost women’s self-esteem. “The shock was meant to magnify the increasing views of women who are too focused on seeing beauty as anorexic figure, which should not be the case,” says Emmanuel del Rosario, CEO of The Body Shop in the Philippines. The ad celebrated the meaning of true beauty. It appealed to the customers’ emotions, thus created the the concept of emotional branding. It attracted not just through the functional aspects of products, but through the emotional aspects, which is what branding is all about.

So, when planning to use shockvertising, map out your strategic plan carefully:

Establish your objective of using it—to grab the consumers’ attention, not turn them off completely. Then present one central proposition. In the case of “Ruby” ad, women’s self esteem was the focus of the material. The message was the main selling point, and the disproportioned doll image became secondary.

Finally, support the central proposition with your brand story in the succeeding ad campaign. To make the campaign more credible, The Body Shop never uses celebrities and models in their next materials. They used real people, ordinary citizen like their store staff as models.

Remember that there is a fine line between being tasteful and unnecessarily using shocking images and copies. Tasteful shock advertising will successfully make its point, and there is a clear reason for the use of whatever was shocking.

Of course, those who subscribe to the mantra “There is no such thing as bad publicity” will always say that shock advertising (no matter how offensive) is the only way to get the message across. “But never forget that shock works only for brands that link back to the brand values; otherwise you’ll end up just shocking the viewers.” ended Ortega.


Related Post: SHOCKVERTISING- Are You Ready for It?


Justine Castellon, a writer and consumer strategist for her own firm Market Place 2.1 specializing in marketing strategies. You may email her at

[published in ENTREPRENEUR MAGAZINE: April 2006]

One response to “Shockvertising: Does it work?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s