That’s shocking, but funny…awareness

People are loathe to hunt for a product, it takes too much effort in an age where time is everything. Sometimes they need to be jolted into awareness of your brand.

While there are various methods by which to elicit attention from your target audience, including punchy, clever headlines, graphics, videos and copy across a variety of social media, print and digital platforms, a veritable mountain of brands drowns in a sea of mediocrity and blah.

Creating awareness around your brand is key to getting noticed by both existing and potential customers; it’s the flag that makes people sit up and take notice; it’s that arm waving above those rolling waves.

So how to stand out, how to be noticed, short of wearing an NSRI lumo-vest in the choppy seas of the marketing environment? (National Sea Rescue Institute for the less informed… you still with me?)

While brand personality is key to any marketing strategy — creating a consistent message and consistent deliverables — there are times that brands need a kick in the nether regions to galvanize them back into the spotlight and out of the bland zone, creating memorable brand awareness.

Enter ‘shockvertising’ that perilous area between acceptable and unacceptable, which can be the making or breaking of a brand.

This method of advertising can be hugely successful or backfire horribly, and any brand that uses these marketing tactics runs the very real risk of putting their brand’s reputation on the line.

This tactic uses subjects that are normally off-limits, but manipulated in a way that elicits a giggle, a gasp or a gag, using issues or taboo subjects to attract attention and trigger strong reactions. As they say, ‘Negative attention is better than none’ — well, yes and no.

Shockvertising jabs a number of touchpoints, including emotional appeal such as humour, sex or fear and, dependent on the target, this could either become buzzworthy and jettison your brand awareness into lofty realms, or be filtered out if consumers find the advertising content threatening or disturbing, leaving a bad taste in the customer’s mouth, so to speak.

Here are a few examples that will really get you thinking: The dark side of marketing: Shock tactics

‘Like’ isn’t always a good thing

Benetton, the international fashion brand is thought to be one of the initial companies that ventured into the shock method of advertising. Nothing was too taboo for them, including commenting on topics from AIDS and the Gulf War, to launching a campaign which got them into hot water with the Pope, because it featured global leaders kissing. (Shock horror!) Come to think of it, I reckon getting the Pope to sit up and take notice is worth the uproar! It also makes you wonder how come the Pontiff was doing the couch-potato thing watching TV while he should have been occupied with saving souls and emailing blessings around the world?

Okay, back to the subject…

If the intended ‘shock’ is so removed from the personality of the brand, it’s going to leave the brand looking schizophrenic, and you may lose the more conservative customer who’ll go searching for that safe haven of bland, or whatever it is that they are used to. It may offend the sentiments of some people, generating negative publicity and, down the line, affect the reputation of the company. On the other hand, you may attract the more kooky, off-centre clientele, and with it a host of new challenges and marketing opportunities. It all depends on what your intention is.

Benetton eventually recognised that this method of brand awareness wasn’t really affecting their sales positively, so they decided to rather focus their strategies on a stronger brand identity, highlighting their clothing range.

On the other hand, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) campaign shows Real people, Real stories with graphic images of previous smokers breathing and talking through a stoma, and smokers with large scars after surgery.

The CDC estimates that since the launch of the campaign in 2012, the effects of the visual shock tactics influenced more than five million smokers to attempt to quit the habit and they also ‘conservatively estimate’ that more than 500,000 of those indeed quit permanently.

Any form of controversial advertising’s aim should not be to polarise an audience, it should rather be used to ignite energetic conversations about the issue addressed, or simply get people thinking differently, more out of their ‘comfort zone’. Difficult task at the best of times.

No shock advertising can be used long-term as it’ll lose its punch and eventually its audience as they become desensitised to the shock aspect. You can only say ‘Boo!’ so many times before you no longer scare someone, or they bop you on your nose out of irritation — and that can definitely go viral if it was videoed.

Think very carefully when you are creating an awareness campaign. While a shockvertising campaign may be the lifeboat for a sinking brand, it may also pull the boat to the bottom of the ocean, regardless of your lumo-vests…

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