>Shockvertising and Shock Marketing

Shockvertising and Shock Marketing

Today’s advertising environment is filled with too many messages and not enough attention by consumers.  We explore the use and impact of shockvertising in an advertising campaign.

Shockvertising and shock marketing are most often thought of and used in Social Marketing campaign.  In campaigns against drinking, animal brutality, meat consumption, abortion, racism, climate change and social inequality, advertisers grab headlines and priceless publicity that cannot be bought without the shock value.

This advertisement by Diesel catered to growing concern over rising sea tides due to climate change, particularly after Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” showed pictures of Manhattan flooding because of global warming.  The main message shows irony with having young people having to sunbathe on the top of a roof because of climate change’s flooding of Manhattan skyscrapers.  As she pours water into his mouth, it suggests that you can taste the water.  While making a statement, it promotes Diesel’s clothing line.  Diesel mirrored the same message in other cities showing bathing suits, parrots and penguins in cities like Rio, Venice, and the North pole.

The old adage goes that sex sells.  But shockvertising goes beyond sex to make a statement or invoke powerful imagery to resonate.  What shocked Americans in 2009 was a Calvin Klein billboard in Soho in New York City.  What was shocking to Americans was not the sexuality, but having two heterosexual men with one woman.  A man sleeps on the floor below, giving the impression that he is dreaming of the situation above (supported by the faded dream-like top part of the billboard).  Freudian psychologists’ imaginations went wild interpreting the photo, and family groups demanded that the ad be taken down.  Though the financial success of the campaign has not been made available, the amount of free publicity was a big boost to Calvin Klein in a selling environment filled with new boutique jean competitors.

Other fashion brands combine shockvertising and suggestive sexuality.

Other brands use symbolism to shock.  Here Sisley tries to convey a symbol of urban fashionistas, while shocking the viewer into remember the brand.  As Sisley mainly targets large urban centers, Sisley may not expect a large backlash from boycotts and outcries from the public.

Even municipal governments use innovative shock marketing to prevent people from walking in certain areas.




Many governments use shock advertisements to prevent binge drinking, smoking, sexual behavior, and unsafe behavior.
















Below is an example of shockvertising sponsored by the Australian government.

“Truth” uses guerrilla marketing techniques to shock people to stop smoking.  This technique involved writing on toilet paper about how ammonia, used to clean toilet bowls, is in cigarettes.

Animal cruelty organizations use Shock Marketing to demonstrate their case.

Another shocking advertisement about animal cruelty and children’s suckling on battered animals.


Marketers use shockvertising when the backlash will be less than the marginal gain.  If the marketer’s target segment reacted negatively to the ad, then the marketer may lose goodwill and customers.  Marketers also make shockvertising meaningful.  If the advertisement is too abstract, consumers may not get the right message, a goal that is crucial in making an impact beyond the initial “shock”.