Charity Shockvertising: is it really effective? - Ronin Marketing
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Charity Shockvertising: is it really effective?

Charity Shockvertising: is it really effective?

A year ago I came across the Barnardo advertising campaigns, the UK’s largest charity organisation, and I remember being alarmed as much as interested to find out why companies decide to use such a cruel approach. These days shock advertising or shockvertising is a widely used marketing technique so you could say its effectiveness can’t be questioned. However, as much as it can prove to be successful in attracting the attention of the target audience, it is not without risk to the brand. There is a question over the long-term impact of shock tactics in advertising, and whether all publicity is indeed good publicity?

Just like commercial brands, charities succeed by competing effectively with other brands in their market space. But rather than competing with other brands in the same line of products or services, they compete with commercial messages and other social influences.

Barnardo has previously used controversial images for its campaign. In late 1999 Barnardo’s provoked public outrage when it released ‘Heroin Baby’ (you can have a look at the images here but be warned they are disturbing), an advertisement featuring a baby in a dark, squalid setting, preparing to inject heroin. If you’re old enough you might remember that ad because of its shock factor and this is the key element. I agree with De Pelsmacker and Van den Burgh when they say, “it is better to evoke a negative feeling than no feeling at all.” Advertising is about feeling and in my opinion an ad is successful when it evokes an emotional response even with a negative connotation.

Indeed, Barnardo’s ads may offend, but its campaigns also achieve the desired ‘spillage’ beyond the paid-for page. Within 29 months of releasing ‘Heroin Baby’, the charity had increased its income by £46.6 million, the majority of new donors were from the targeted group below 55, representing a significant shift in its recruitment base. The proportion of regular (versus one-off donors) also increased from three to 29 per cent.


What do you think? Do you find shock advertising offensive? And where should we draw the line?