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Shock Tactics: Worth The Risk?
Grabbing attention is definitely crucial within marketing – but should it be achieved however possible?

‘Shockvertising’ typically reaches its target audience using humour, sex or fear. The reward is awareness; the risk is alienation. Ultimately, it isn’t down to you to decide, but or your audience and the Advertising Standards Authority.  It’s been officially stating where ‘the line’ of decency exists for 50 years.

Incurring the wrath of the Advertising Standards Authority, (ASA), can result in expensive retractions and amendments. Some marketers believe that the headlines achieved in doing so are worth it. But be warned – controversy is a dangerous game.

The ASA is the first port of call for the public – and your competitors – if your adverts are deemed inaccurate or downright offensive. You may remember the controversial Benetton adverts of the 1990s, featuring the traditional taboos of war, racism and disease amongst other topics. They incited a negative backlash towards the brand.

At the other end of the scale, we’ve seen French Connection’s FCUK logo achieve success within controversy, as did Powwownow’s tongue-in-cheek banker character Cecil. (However his image was defaced on posters in tube stations as ‘his’ attitude was deemed offensive.)

We’ve seen charities spark fury by using 9/11 (Tsunami donations) and the Pope (condom advert) to raise awareness for their own cause. ASA research shows that 80% of the public believe that charities use shock  tactics. Ultimately it’s your audience’s view that counts. Prostate Cancer Charity receives 45% better donation levels in response to a positive message.

So, throughout its 50 year history, which advert has been most complained about? Did it feature sex, fear, racism? No.

Topping the list of complaints is the Kentucky Fried Chicken TV advert featuring call centre workers singing whilst eating. It seems that manners still matter to the British and that humour appears to be the most controversial element of all.

Are you thinking of a theme for your marketing communications? If you would like any advice please contact us – we’re here to help.