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Injecting some shock into junk food marketing

An advertisement created by The Precinct studio highlights the debate about whether shock ads actually change behaviour. The viral execution features a mother preparing to inject her son with heroin before the scene changes to show him eating a hamburger.


The caption reads: ”You wouldn’t inject your children with junk so why are you feeding it to them?”

The major problem with this kind of execution is that it is a case of the creative overwhelming the message. As a branding expert said to me, "Why use a nutcracker, when you can use a sledgehammer."


Social marketers need to be careful about pushing up too hard against the typical attitude. At the moment, the majority of the population still see eating junk food in the context of individual freedom and choice.


Advertising has to nudge and work with current beliefs and attitudes, rather than lecture or abuse people for their choices – lots of research from anti-smoking campaigns shows that the nasty or guilt style creative really only has an impact on current non-smokers (it makes them feel good about their choices – which is where advertising is most effective… on current users).


Advocacy groups have to have same level of sophistication and understanding of consumer behavior as commercial businesses, otherwise they simply end up talking to themselves, rather than those they are trying to help.


As I have said previously, in relation to the White Ribbon Campaign, advertisers need to recognise that shock for its own sake does not change behaviour. An emotional creative execution is useful, because it helps the brain to form neural connections when our emotions are heightened, but we need to be careful not to activate the “reject” or flight response.


Advertisers use humour, music, imagery and sound to create an emotional response.


The use of tactics such as shock and sexualisation is nothing more than an attempt to engage the consumer, while attempting to “cut-through” all of the other communication and information being thrust upon the consumer.


But we also need to have a deep understanding of how consumers might react to these messages.


A good communicator works out the most appropriate way to pass on their message. When the creative process overwhelms the intent, it is just a bit of a self-indulgent rant that makes the creator feel good, and perhaps those who feel some degree of self-righteousness.


There is probably a little bit of "The Gruen Transfer" effect going on, as well, with the agency probably wanting an opportunity to be noticed and discussed on the program – an interesting postmodern trend – which would be great publicity for the agency.


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