Claire Beale On Advertising: When shock tactics go too far...

Imagine yourself in the creative department of a German advertising agency. A brief has just come in for an anti-Aids TV commercial. So how do you persuade young people to put caution before pleasure and acknowledge that sex can be fatal? Think hard. What's the most traumatising image you can conjure to shock your carefree and careless audience into paying attention and donning a condom?

It's not hard to see how the German creatives came up with the idea of Hitler having sex. Coming up with the idea, though, is one thing, having the nerve to make it into an ad is quite another. The result is a steamy soft-core porn film of a couple having sex, all grinding bodies and swinging breasts. It's not until the end frame that we see the man's face: a sweaty, straining, orgasmic Hitler appears, alongside the line "Aids is a mass murderer". The ad is beyond shocking, and has proved predictably controversial.

On the other side of the Atlantic a similar advertising controversy has been building. This time the worthy cause trying to shock people into awareness is the World Wildlife Fund. Its Brazilian office worked with DDB Brasil to come up with a print ad and a film so disturbing in its approach that the entire North American ad industry has been buzzing.

The WWF campaign shows a film of Manhattan being attacked by an entire fleet of planes in a scenario that plays upon the horrors of the 9/11 atrocity. The copy – I paraphrase – says that the 9/11 attacks were bad, but the 2005 tsunami was worse. The strapline at the end reads: "Our planet is brutally powerful. Conserve it."

Hardly surprising, then, that the ad was criticised for its insensitivity and crass abuse of a tragedy. Cue furious backtracking from agency and client, who blamed inexperienced juniors on both sides for allowing the campaign to see the light of day.

It's possible that the WWF campaign was never really intended for public consumption, but as a scam ad primarily created to enter awards. It happens; rather a lot, in fact. Nevertheless, both agency and client were clearly aware of its existence and some people somewhere at both companies felt it was an appropriate way to market the WWF brand.

Anyway, what both the Aids awareness and WWF campaigns illustrate are the pitfalls of producing social awareness campaigns. In these days of communication saturation when commercials can become little more than wallpaper, forcing an unpalatable social message – unprotected sex can give you Aids, or we need to treat our planet with more respect – on an audience that would rather not admit to the issues can lead to desperate tactics.

We would not have heard of either of these ads had they not employed such disturbing imagery. The power of the iconography employed has amplified the commercial messages well beyond the countries for which they were intended and has given both campaigns the sort of oxygen neither advertiser could afford to buy.

Do the ends justify the means? Is advertising – for anything, even a life-and-death issue – ever an appropriate vehicle for such disturbing and provocative themes? Advertising is routinely brought in as a weapon against social problems and is asked to tackle some of our most sensitive issues: knife crime, drink-driving, obesity, binge drinking, sexually transmitted diseases, drug abuse.

In the end, it comes down to the sensitivity and genuine commitment to the cause with which the ads are created. For my money, the Aids awareness campaign is defensible on this score. WWF's ad, though, is dangerously crass and exploitative. Both the agency and the client should be ashamed of themselves.

Best in Show: HSBC (JWT)

It's a year since the collapse of Lehman Brothers brought the financial world to its knees. It will take many more years for the banking industry to regain the public's faith and support. But HSBC's new ad by JWT will move the game forward an inch for the brand. The theme is about responsibility and integrity; ours, funnily enough, not theirs. In the ad a fisherman catches a dolphin in his net, and responsibly lets the dolphin and the rest of his catch go rather than selfishly sacrifice the dolphin to keep his haul. It's a lovingly shot, evocative commercial and there's no denying that, in the current climate, taking responsibility for your finances is a good idea.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peopleJonathan Ross has got a left-field suggestion to replace Clarkson
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
Arts and Entertainment
Written protest: Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo, has sent an open letter to the Culture Secretary
books
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Ashdown Group: .NET Developer : ASP.NET , C# , MVC , web development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits - see advert: Ashdown Group: .N...

Guru Careers: 3D Package Designer / 3D Designer

£25 - 30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an exceptional 3D Package Designer / 3...

Guru Careers: Interior Designer

£Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a strong Middleweight / Senior Inte...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss