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Should advertising have boundaries?

2 min, 10 sec read
10:30 AM | 18 November 2014
by Justice James
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Advertising is meant to push the envelope. As long as the message gets through to the audience, some would argue that the means are immaterial. Despite this, some feel that the end doesn't always justify the means.

Earlier this year, the Department of the Environment (DoE) in Northern Ireland released an advert to encourage safer driving. The “means” in this case involved showing children being crushed by a rolling vehicle. The advert was accompanied by statistics stating that “a classroom of our children” have been killed by speeding in the last 14 years.

"As a society, we’ve become so desensitised to violence that it’s more difficult than ever to express the gravity of certain situations."

It’s obvious that the graphic nature of the advert was in response to how messages get through to consumers nowadays. As a society, we’ve become so desensitised to violence that it’s more difficult than ever to express the gravity of certain situations. There exists a fine line, however, between realistically informing the audience and just downright offending them.

Many have expressed outrage over these images, explaining that the message was lost under the desire to achieve “shock value”. Others meanwhile, have argued that this approach is necessary, or else people wouldn’t really get the message. Indeed, the DoE was simply reacting to shifts in market trends.

When I first saw the advert, I sat in shock, speechless,  for several moments. When discussing the advert with my fellow advertising and marketing communications students, we concisely agreed that the DoE had crossed a line. In my opinion, advertising doesn't get a carte blanche on the content they produce. At the end of the day, priorities should lie in the protection of audiences. Media tells us that youth are desensitised to graphic images thanks to video games; this blanket assumption is then used to inform content that is consumed by a much larger audience than just youth.

"When discussing the advert with my fellow advertising and marketing communications students, we concisely agreed that the DoE had crossed a line."

Should advertising push boundaries? Absolutely. Under no circumstances should taking those risks come at the expense of consumers' peace of mind. I don't need to see the severed heads of foreign aid workers and journalists to understand the gravity of the ISIS threat.

What do you think? Is there a meaningful place for “shockvertising”, or is it simply a cheap way to get a rise out of the audience?



For more on shockvertising and advice on using it yourself, take a look at our article "Should you use shock tactics?"

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