Sunday, September 13, 2009

When Is Shock And Awe Too Much?

I recently had a coffee meeting with a colleague of mine this past Friday. He told me about a new commercial in Germany aimed at AIDS awareness. The group, Rainbow, centered their advertisement around near-soft-core nudity and finished with a likeness of Hitler making love to the woman on screen. The juxtaposition of AIDS and Hitler is that both are mass murderers. The makers of the advertisement are hoping to deter people in Germany from having unprotected sex, but really, does a message like its meaning across?

Advertisements that contain "shock and awe" have been around a long time, but it seems only recently that their presence is becoming known. This group, Rainbow, may not care how it is represented or remembered for its advertising. Bad marketing is as good a tool as good marketing: the product is remembered, the name is remembered, and usually the advertisement (or commercial, in this case) is remembered. But will its message be taken seriously, or will the German population turn off their television the moment the ad is aired? Was "shock and awe" necessary in this case?

Personally, I feel this commercial comes across that invisible line. An ad does not have to be sterile or safe to get its message across; however, to honestly compare the AIDS virus (which has been around since the very late 1970's, first gaining notoriety in early 1980's) to Adolf Hitler in Germany, of all countries, crosses that line. Most Germans would rather not remember those atrocities, much less be paired yet again with them. AIDS is a monstrous virus, but it stands a better chance of being cured than Evil.

I do think "shock and awe" has a place in marketing, but in most cases I feel it is an unnecessary action. It seems as though people who make commercial advertisements feel they have to be as shocking as some of the television programs or movies have become. This is a dangerous move; television and movies that subscribe to the theory that "the more shocking, the larger the audience" may be deluding itself into thinking people are paying attention to the message and not the violence or distate of the show/movie/ad. The more this type of advertisement becomes popular, the less likely its message will get across because viewers will become desensitized to it. Don't believe me? Remember the height of the Iraqui war, remember the people they were beheading on TV? A teacher in California actually aired the beheadings, and the majority of his class was not bothered by it. That's sad.

And the German AIDS commercial? Definitely something needs to be done to cure this horrible disease. It has been around far too long, claiming too many victims with little to no progress made towards its extinction. Is it enough for people to be mortified by a personified comparison of Hitler to the AIDS virus? Will this commercial teach abstinence? Or is it time for people, single or not, to have their partners tested for the virus before consummating their relationship?

As for the "shock and awe" value, tread carefully and leave most of it to the movies. Choose to be remembered for your product and not the violence of your ads.