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Social Shock Ads – How Far is too Far?

February 15th, 2008

Edgy ads on social health issues like drug abuse and smoking have become commonplace on the airwaves. In the battle against smoking, The Truth campaign brought shock into the advertising mainstream. And now a new campaign warning teens of the dangers of unwanted pregnancies is the latest to employ shock advertising to send a message.

Gone are the days when abstinence was looked at as the only way to prevent pregnancy, as The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy’s latest ad campaign suggests. With a series of six posters, each with a different negative buzzword regarding pregnancy in bold print in front of a teen, the campaign emphasizes the empty feeling that follows news of an unwanted teen pregnancy. It also emphasizes that the safest way to avoid the issue is to use a condom.

According to the Campaign, the series of print ads “has been very popular with teens and have appeared in numerous magazines including XXL, Spin, Vibe, Teen People, and others.”

One of the ads features a seemingly depressed young female, with the caption “Condoms are CHEAP. (CHEAP blasted on the girl’s stomach) If we’d used one, I wouldn’t have to tell my parents I’m pregnant.”

I’m all for reinforcing the idea that unexpected teen pregnancy can be difficult and may not be the most ideal situation, but are the messages these ads convey like setting a six pack of beer on the table at an AA meeting instead of a bottle of whiskey?

Obviously, marketing to teens is typically edgy – it’s what marketers feel must be done to get their attention when they’re under constant message bombardment. There’s plenty of proof that it works – that’s The Truth.

To me this campaign raises the question, “how far is too far when it comes to these shock campaigns?”

It’s great that The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy wants to help kids make the right choice, but is that really what they’re doing? Does labeling teens with degrading words like “Dirty” and “Reject” serve that purpose? Or is it too far?

Many experts contend that provocative advertising is the best way to cut through the clutter and reach kids. That may be true but it is fair to question whether or not The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy’s latest print campaign has pushed the envelope too far.

There are many questions that need to be answered when it comes to this campaign and others like it. Is this the most effective means of changing behavior? Is this shock for the sake of shock? Who’s to say how far is too far?

I’m not sure yet. Hopefully people can handle The Truth.

Posted Under: Advertising
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