The Drum premiered its Shockumentary on the use of shock in advertising to an audience at Advertising New York, followed by a panel led by editor at large, Dave Birss and editor, Gordon Young. The rest of the panel included Louisa St Pierre, head of integrated media for Bernstein & Andriulli, Matt Ian, executive creative director of TBWA Chiat Day New York and Richard Kosinski, president of Unruly.
Here's some of the things we learned from the panel discussing shock advertising following the screening of the Shockumentary.
The majority of the room did not believe that there were topics no brands should ever encroach upon, a feeling that Ian put into words when he said "I can't think of a single subject that would be taboo under the right circumstances...how are you using the idea to frame your marketing or are you using that for its stopping power? Shock advertising does it to stop a person suddenly and then there is stuff that shocks me out of complacency into reappraisal...and when you do it that way it can be quite helpful."
Kosinski echoed Ian's views to state: "It really depends in what the objective is. Most of the brands that we talk to are consumer entities and when you think about the advertisers out there who use shock, most of them at public service or health related...if you're a package company or a pharmaceutical company, the repetitional risk is a lot higher so shock may not be the best approach to use."
He added by putting the commonality of viral videos into context, claiming that that there was a 0.06 per cent chance of a video achieving over a million views online, adding that shocking content was more likely to achieve that goal as people would pass it on and share to ascertain if others were shocked as well.
St Pierre admitted that creatives naturally liked the idea of using shock ideas to gain a reaction claiming that people enjoyed "raw creativity" where artists would look to aid social justice or awareness of a problem, while others would be strategic, claiming that street artists were adept as utilising shock tactics.
She added that risks of brands putting their head above the parapet with controversial ideas needed structure in place to handle any trouble that they may face.
Young cited a Twitter storm faced by The Drum in recent years which promoted online criticism, but in researching the numbers of complainants, it transpired that the number was a small but highly vocal group that died down quite quickly.
"Sometimes it's best to just wait it out," advised a young who compared the issue to a squall. One minute it's fine, then it becomes very violent and serious, and then suddenly the squall disappears as quickly as it emerged. Social media can be a bit like that. If you are relatively sure of your ground then hold it and don't cave in or panic. The chances are the twitter squall will disappear and be forgotten very quickly."
Ian added his views as to why people reacted to some shock ads that could be offensive: "People will react negatively more than they will positively. That's why people react. That's why I voted against Mit Romney in the Iast election against Barack Obama, to stop that happening. When it comes to politics that is a black and white case, but when dealing with brands, that is a different story."
This led him to discuss a recent Super Bowl advert created by TBWA for Volkswagen that was released ahead of the game which picked up negative traction with even the media claiming it was racist, but eventually saw it defended by loyal fans.
"We had done our homework. We knew our brand really well and we knew what we were going to say and that we could say it. That's why, when it happened, it was terrifying, but Volkswagen to their credit stuck with it."
A poll just before the Superbowl found that 97 per cent of viewers fund the advert inoffensive, and that those against the advert was a small minority.
"There was something about having the brand they had grown to love attacked led to them saying 'fuck you. You won't attack Volkswagen. I love this brand.' So if you treat your audience with that respect and you just tell them how it is an treat them like adults, they will respond and come to your defence. There are some people who will be offended by anything."
Burss asked whether the reaction of getting people talking through a shock advert was ultimately what brands wanted, with a polarising message generating debate.
"When you are dealing with brands, if you want to have a debate then you had better frame the argument in such a way you control the terms. You can't have an ad campaign where you show a couple having sex in a mall and hope that people will then talk about it. If they do talk about it, you're not going to like what they say and it's going to get away from you," Ian added.
In conclusion the four prescribed principles for the use of shock. Kosinski advised that no one should ever ask a question they didn't know the answer to in order to avoid being surprised by the reaction and to know what the company was getting into. Ian said that companies have principles in order to say shocking things and make arguments as long as they fed into those principles to make a valid point. He said that using it for stopping power was "a dangerous game," and added that saying something shocking that a company did not believe in would end up attracting unwanted reaction.
Young said that strong brands were as defined by those who hated it as they were by those who loved it and sometimes it didn't do any harm to face criticism if there were people to support it and to not try to please everyone. St Pierre said that brands should "plan their intelligence" behind such a campaign and to not attempt to be controversial using any sort if mixed messaging. "Be relevant, intelligent and have empathy to a certain extend," she concluded.