Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Controversial Advertising and Commercials: Effective or Repulsive?

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 next two commercials are from a common safety cause. They deal with a real-world situation that most of us have encountered a time or two: seat belts.

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!

What do you think of the advertisements I’ve featured in this blog post? Do you agree that the climate change ad was too over-the-top? Are you going to start wearing your seatbelt? Leave us a comment and we’ll get a discussion going!

Image Credits


Bubba is the Quality Logo Products mascot. He may have started out as "just a stress ball," but he's come a long way since the company's launch in 2003. Bubba has been immortalized in numerous vector artwork designs for internal and external promotions, and you can see him change outfits on the Quality Logo Products homepage whenever a holiday rolls around. Oh, and he thinks pants are for the birds. You can connect with Bubba on


  1. Jon

    I for sure think there are some commercials that use shock value appropriately and some don’t (i.e. exploding kids in a carbon emissions commercial).

    Great post yet again!

  2. Interpreneur

    Those “appropriate” commercials were moving to say the least!

  3. QLP Jill

    As much as graphic commercials depress my spirits, I have to admit that they force me to do something about a cause. I always wear my seatbelt, but I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten into a car with someone who says: “Oh, I’ll be fine without wearing one. At least you guys will all be safe.” How scary is that?!?

    The anti-carbon-emission ad went too far, I’ll agree. I understand the message they were trying to convey, but I think they missed the point. And what is up with the button-pushing? What are they trying to say by showing someone else pushing a button and killing another person? It doesn’t make any sense…

    Awesome blog, QLP Kid. People need to know the difference between good shock value and bad!

  4. QLP Kid

    I had never really thought of how dangerous it can be for EVERYONE in the car for there to be someone unbuckled in the back seat.

    -QLP Kid

    “It’s How the Midwest was Won…”

  5. Bumcivilian

    I think extreme shock value works, whether you agree or not the ad gets its point across. Even if it angers you, you think about it. Especially those seatbelt commercials, I certainly know the outcome of not wearing one, but seeing what happens in the process and not glorifying car accidents, merely being witness as if you were a part of it, grosses the viewer to the point of awareness and distinct memorable association.

  6. GraphicMind

    I think there might be something wrong with me…

    I find the 10:10 UK campaign video the LEAST shocking, but maybe because it’s the most far fetched so it doesn’t hit home as much as the previous three did.

    That least seat belt one… man… I never thought that a passenger sitting in the rear of a car NOT wearing their seat belt could cause that much damage to the passengers around them.

    Arrggh… I’m walking to and from work everyday from here on out.

    I agree, shock value has its place, but to discredit the 10:10 UK campaign video to much would be missing the mark the creators were aiming for. Is it extreme, yes. Was it intended to educate the public about the cause or MOVE them to do something (as the other commercials arguably do); no. Anti-carbon-emission are NOT fun, not easy to explain in a 30 second PSA (most people can’t even spell the word “carbon”!), so they went for total shock value. I bet this ONE commercial has gotten more media coverage than the topic of CO2 emissions and our environment has this past year (thanks Barack!).

    Sometimes extreme situations call for extreme measures.

    Make no mistake, this video was about garnering media attention, and only that. Mission accomplished and hats off to its’ creators.

    Free publicity, good or bad, at least in some circles is GOOD publicity (not to mention free advertising). Even though Sony no longer sponsors this campaign, I don’t think people are going to run out and INCREASE CO2 emissions tomorrow as a result of this video.

  7. Jon Howard

    I definitely agree that 10:10 U.K. commercial was over the top. There is a certain degree of shock that is appropriate for television ads. Consumers don’t respond well to ads that cause them anxiety and fear at such a heightened level. Take the advertisements in Australia, for consumers to quit smoking. People are repulsed by the ads so much, that they ignore the message and are eager to change the change the channel.
    As far as wearing my seatbelt, yes I will continue to wear my seatbelt. I don’t think the few seatbelt commercials are that bad, but I do think there are some concepts of the commercial i.e. blood that they could omit.

  8. Michelle

    Well not only did I jump at each of these lovely videos, but Lauren and I definitely decided to always wear our seatbelts. 🙂 So good shock value indeed! The 10:10 UK campaign video however was really disturbing. Not a fan of their tactics!

  9. QLP Kid

    I completely agree. But what i am saying is even though the seat belt commercials were more extreme (they could go without some of the blood) they were much more appropriate. On the other hand the omissions commercial like you said Jon Howard made me want to change the channel in a sense.

    As far as the “Free” publicity they are getting in some cases even the negative coverage gets the message out there but i feel like in this case people are just focusing on the exploding kids and not even listening to the message.

  10. Jay Jay

    This is the kind of thing I try to teach people. Can I expect a sequel?

  11. Sal

    thanks for posting. Great article.

  12. Dawn

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