Shock or Satire? Which is the most effective angle for advertising sensitive topics?
I was intrigued when I recently saw the new ‘Man Therapy’ ad for Beyond Blue tackling the serious topic of Male depression. They were trying to communicate a serious message, but rather than using shock tactics or praying upon vulnerabilities, it used subtle humour and a ‘likeable’, ‘easy-going’ character (which we know are often key elements in effective ads). It made me wonder which advertising tactics are the most effective for sensitive topics. Are ads more likely to get noticed when they turn a morbid topic into something funny (like the Metro Trains ‘Dumb ways to die’ ad or the Worksafe ‘The Pain Game’ ads), or balance it somewhere in between (like for World Vision’ ‘No child for sale’ ad). So how did an ad that is happy, silly, funny, morbid (and a little odd) get the big gong at the Cannes Advertising Awards this year? The ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ ad had all the makings of success; humour, catchy music, and likeable (if not a little quirky) characters. This ad is clearly down the more ‘humourous’ end of the scale, and as the creator behind the ad explains “trains are the most predictable things on earth, and to be brutally honest if you decide to walk across a train tracks and get hit by a train…well, it’s your own dumb fault.” The use of humour, combined with a funky jingle and cute characters made for some addictive watching, and consequently racked them up with over 50 million views worldwide! Along a similar direction, the recent Worksafe ‘The Pain Game’ ads used a classic game show analogy to show viewers the risks you face by making silly short cuts at work. Again humour was the key driver of attention for this ad, but the question is, will it change viewers’ behavior? And what about the most recent TAC drink driving ad ‘Booze Busted’. It would be interesting to see how it compares to their usual emotional/shock style. In the middle of the spectrum is a World Vision anti child slavery ad called ‘No child for sale’. This ad balances on the fence between shock and satire in a spot that leaves you taking a deep breath and feeling incredibly uncomfortable. The humour here definitely gets your attention and makes you take notice, and I understand that its aim is to make you feel uncomfortable, but does that work to get you to do something about it? Humour has been utilized in slightly different ways with all these ads, with Beyond Blue, it makes you smile and gently encourages the audience to take the next step. With Metro Trains & Worksafe, the in-your-face humour gets your attention - but I question whether it will change behaviours, and with World Vision, the humour element potentially makes you feel so uncomfortable it forces you to do something about it. View World Visions 'No Child for Sale' ad >> View Worksafe 'The Pain Game' ad >> View Metrotrains 'Dumb ways to die' ad >> View Beyond Blue 'Man Therapy' ad >> View TAC's 'Booze busted' ad >>