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Points of View: Does Shock Value Work?

By Sohini Sen , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | February 09, 2015
Through bold scripts and bolder visuals, brands have started 'shocking' viewers into taking note of their campaigns. How viable is 'shockvertising'?

Sumanto Chattopadhyay, executive creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy

Sometimes, you can shock a person out of complacency and make her see things your way. But, shock can be a major turn off too. It takes an audacious advertiser who knows what she is doing to use shock effectively. The approach works well in the case of fashion and youth brands.

Sumanto Chattopadhyay

Prathap Suthan

Shock value can work with older audiences too, especially if it involves a brand that has a big impact on the life of the people, and if the shock seems to stem from a reality. Consider the American ad from 1964 that put Lyndon Johnson into the oval office, for instance. Shocking facts can sway the consumer into making an important life decision.

Prathap Suthan, chief creative officer, Bang in the Middle

It's a quick attention-grabbing technique. It works in areas like social service, where we need to alter behaviour like over-speeding, talking on the phone while driving, molestation, smoking, etc. But, shock value tends to die down fast. One needs to sustain the level of communication and ensure there is follow-up action from the audience. The problem with shock advertising is that it elevates the limits of what to expect on television, in print and across other forms of subsequent communication.

You need to know where and how to employ shock. You can't use it randomly for every category. It's best when you have to make a point and get out. Consider 'Unwatchable', a brutal video about Congo. Now that's shock!

Another problem is - people often mistake surprise for shock.

Priti Nair

Partho Sinha

Priti Nair, co-founder, Curry-Nation

Shock value only works in the short term. It can easily be converted to 'talk value'.

A shocking ad can lead to brand salience and can help make a film go viral. It also helps a brand form its 'first impression', one that sticks. For example, Fastrack has, right from the beginning, been against the popular trend.

However, if shock value is in bad taste, especially when it includes sexuality and nudity, it cannot have a good long-term effect. Shocking ads must be done thoughtfully and aesthetically. There was a cement brand which showed a bikini-clad girl coming out of the ocean; there was no brand-connect whatsoever. In such cases, people will recall the ad, not the brand.

Partho Sinha, creative head, DigitasLBi

There are pros and cons to using shock value. People love to be shocked and awed. But, if you go for shock value and irritate or offend people, they will most likely just reach for the remote and tune you out.

Today, some of the most viral videos on YouTube are about social causes. Like any tactic, you have to define it in terms of the strategic goal. And, you need to be sensitive.

As creative professionals look for more inventive ways to visualise their stories, shock value is becoming an effective tool. It helps highlight things and ensure that customers won't overlook those aspects. Shock value helps dramatise things and leads to consumer engagement.

The most recent Van Damme viral video 'The Epic Split' was awe-inspiring, but the question is - will something similar work again?