Recently, there has been buzz about an extreme commercial being aired: the 10:10 UK campaign video featuring blood, gore, and exploding children. The public service announcement was intended to have shock value and urge people to cut down on carbon emissions, but outraged responses are all it has attained so far. While typical shock value works – at least to some extent – there is a line where the shock goes from compelling to repulsive. (Don’t worry, you’ll get a chance to view this grotesque advertisement later in this post!)

Even though graphic commercials or advertisements are always under debate, there are some that use just the right amount of shock to compel audiences into taking action. Others, like the controversial 10:10 UK campaign PSA, incorporate too much shock and subtract value from the ad’s message. Causes are subjective to each person, so how do you determine a delicate balance of shock value? It’s not easy. I’d like to share a few commercials that have extreme shock value but manage to stay appropriate to the causes they represent.


Seriously, they are slightly disturbing. You’ve been warned!

Compelling Shock Value

First we have a commercial from the “Look Twice, Save a Life” cause. These commercials add a ton of shock value and result in a compelling reaction.

While the commercial above is graphic, I am definitely going to take a little extra time and look for bikers!

These seatbelt safety commercials focus on the importance of buckling up and show firsthand how NOT buckling up can hurt you and the people you love. These commercials really bring it down to the reality: the decision you make to not buckle up affects everyone else in the car. These commercials may be utterly disturbing and depressing, but they take true horror stories of the consequences of not buckling up and put them into videos that get people thinking.

You were probably shocked by those commercials, right? But I’ll bet the graphic nature compels you to actually do something. That’s the difference between the seatbelt safety commercials and the next commercial on my list, which seemingly uses shock value just because it can. It does not make you feel compelled to take action, it just makes people talk about the commercial (which I realize I am doing now). However, I was repulsed enough after watching this commercial that I did not want to support their cause at all! And I’m not alone.

Repulsive Shock Value

Remember the 10:10 UK campaign video I mentioned earlier in the post? You know, the one that depicts kids getting blown up? This is it! This commercial’s purpose was to demand action on the climate change issue, but I feel that the shock they threw in was just gross and unnecessary. It’s not on YouTube, but you can click on the link to see for yourself…

Sony Drops Out of Climate Change Campaign After Exploding Kids Ad (article from Fast Company)

I don’t know about you, but when I finished watching this I was NOT compelled to go green; I was left with a negative view of the organization that made this.

Overall, I think that shock value can be an excellent tool in an advertiser’s toolbox if he or she knows when to use a hammer and when to use a sledgehammer. The next time you feel like using shock value in an ad, I hope you take a moment to decide if the level you are thinking of is appropriate for your message!

About the author

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten is a promo expert with a passion for branding . Her vast knowledge of promotional giveaways and marketing has led to several articles and published work for PPB Magazine, a publication from the Promotional Products Association International.