Shockvertising: Advertisements That Push the Envelope

My initial intention this week was to examine innovative advertising techniques; not to delve into anything too specific or targeted, but rather to gain a little insight into what’s new and different as far as modern trends go. But midway through my findings, I was ultimately taken aback by how far print media ads and web-based ads have come lately in the attempt to seize our attention. There seems to be a growing number of ads pushing the limits of taste—not that that’s a particularly bad thing. A little extremism is healthy from time to time. What was interesting to me was that the more each ad attempted to push boundaries, the more of an effect the ad had on me.

Here are 3 shockvertising examples I found particularly interesting (click the links to view the pictures):

Ads sponsored by animal rights advocacy groups were particularly effective. An anti-animal testing advert featuring a woman holding a tiny puppy up to her face like it were a perfume bottle (its gasping cough as the perfume spray) sort of makes you stop and think.

One anti-cigarette pollution ad shows a river-fish cut in half lengthwise and splayed out on a table so that you can clearly see the excess of cigarette butts still inside of it after ingestion. A bit on the disgusting side, but certainly thought-provoking.

Also intriguing was an obesity awareness poster I stumbled across which focuses on the large midsection of a man strapped with explosives that look like sticks of butter. The caption: “Obesity Is Suicide.” Admittedly, it’s a stretch, but it makes sense. And again, violent imagery is the ad’s weapon of choice to provoke the viewer. We could read statistics all day about the obesity epidemic here in the U.S., but ultimately it DOES take shocking imagery to get the idea firmly implanted.

So, is this kind of shockvertising forgivable? Have we become comfortably numb to everything else? It might just be my opinion, but we seem to be so desensitized to the overwhelming concentration of ads we encounter on a daily basis that a little poke or prod to our sensibilities is probably a good thing from time to time—if it gets the wheels in our heads turning, that is.

Many of these ads, I discovered, are currently banned in several countries—which is likely why we haven’t seen them in the States. But at the end of the day, the bottom line is effectiveness. Would these approaches work in the U.S.?

What do you think? Is shock value a viable marketing tool?

Joseph Giorgi

Joseph is the head of the Media Team at Quality Logo Products. He's a video specialist, blogger, perfectionist, and all-around likeable guy. When he's not busy focusing on the nitty-gritty details of his written and visual work, he's normally listening to bad 80s music and scouring the internet for useless information on useless subjects. You can also connect with Joe on Google+.


  1. QLP Jill

    Wow, that anti-animal testing ad kind of disturbed me…I always go for products that specifically state they weren’t tested on animals, but I’m sure the ones that DON’T say anything are testing that way. 🙁 Even though rodents don’t bother me (in fact, I LOVE them: I think rodents make the best pets!) I don’t think the ad would be AS effective if it featured a mouse/rodent because unfortunately no one cares about them. A puppy, on the other hand…you’d have to be a soulless jerk to not love puppies! I think that’s what makes the ad as thought-provoking as it is.

    Shock value advertisements tend to hit me the hardest, and even though I may be temporarily disgusted, they drive me to action moreso than tame ads. Whether people like them or not, they have to admit that they make an impact! Awesome blog post. 🙂

  2. Cybernetic SAM

    I LOVE shocking adverts. Honestly if I never see another half naked women or sexualized ad again it’ll be too soon. I think society and advertising agency have forgotten the origins of advertising, not to just appeal to your sexual psyche, but GRAB your attention immeditaley and think about what it is they are advertsing. whether you agree or not, you still will remember controversy. EVERYBODY LOVES DRAMA! Shock value is how we spend most of our time in every media, why not advertising? Think about it, why do you think reality television and celebrity gossip are as popular as they are? Even if I don’t like the ad or am disgusted by it, I’ll always associate it with the product or company and isn’t that the point?

  3. Bret Bonnet

    I think shock and aw is the American way! Or at least it was for George W. Bush.

    …That poor Yorky.

    I’m totally opposed to animal testing, especially when there is a state amply stocked with Greenbay Packers fans that are disposable and ready for HUMAN testing.


    I know there was a reason I hated eating fish sticks while growing up… Thanks Joseph for reminding me why I don’t like eating fish (Lobster being the only exception).

    Mmmm…. butter.

    • Michelle

      “I’m totally opposed to animal testing, especially when there is a state amply stocked with Greenbay Packers fans that are disposable and ready for HUMAN testing.”


  4. Tony Promo

    I think that in the examples you gave, this method of advertising is 100% appropriate. Why sugar-coat how evil and unnecessary it is to test cosmetics on animals? And we just happen to have an obesity epidemic in this country, so IMO, no problem there either. A lot of people need a really intense visual to wrap their head around certain things (or a LOT of things!), and I think this advertising method should be welcomed, as long as it’s for the right cause.

    As far as anything else is concerned, I really don’t need graphic imagery or innuendo in a Trojan commercial. I get it already.

  5. Scooby DOO!


    Although those shock-tastic marketing campaigns were good; none reached as many people as:

    Now that is one way to get attention! And MAYBE it would be considered more rogue advertising that shockvertising, but it still was aimed to create emotion from those who saw them. Coleman does not even make that many tents in a year!

    Nice post!

  6. JJ "Suite G"

    These days I think that a little shock value is, fortunately or unfortunately, an effective means of getting newer ideas across to the viewer/consumer. I say “fortunately” because it can potentially allow for a more eccentric, outside-the-box approach to traditional marketing; and I say “unfortunately” because it’s sort-of sad that we’re pretty much desensitized to the excess of almost everything else. “Shock and awe,” of course, isn’t the ONLY way, but it’s effective nonetheless.

    The times, they are a-changin’.

  7. Ace

    Terrific, this is exactly what I was searching for!

  8. Amateur6

    “…the large midsection of a man strapped with explosives that look like sticks of butter.”

    You have that backwards. He has sticks of butter strapped to him, which are made to look like explosives.

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