Health companies have long relied on the scare factor in advertising, hoping that grave warnings and overly gruesome images will keep us from engaging in reckless behavior. (See anti-tobacco ads that feature individuals who have lost their teeth, their gums, need a respirator, etc). But these advertisements often have the adverse effect. In a world where we are constantly bombarded with gruesome images, at some point they begin to lose their effectiveness. The scare factor in advertising is no longer just a scary image. It has evolved to include the element of surprise, and to reflect a minimalistic design. One of the award winning advertising campaigns at Cannes this past year was designed for General Motors and Buick in Asia.
The advertising campaign consisted of several landscape shots, usually of vacant city streets, and an individual holding up a street sign. Upon first glance, there is nothing remarkable about them. But if you look for five seconds, you quickly realize that these average citizens are handicapped in some grotesque way – and holding the very street sign that an offender disregarded that resulted in their injuries. A woman, who has lost an arm, holds a speed limit sign. The tagline reads, “The signs are there for a reason.” Even the aforementioned anti-smoking advertisements I mentioned are changing. The current campaign running for anti-smoking includes a quiet monologue being read by again, what seems to be an average citizen. Until they have a quiet pause and reveal something about them – they have had throat surgery, have dentures, or were hiding a malady off screen.
These advertisements have been following this new trend – using the scare factor combined with the element of surprise. Because we have unfortunately grown numb to images of war and those of grotesque ailments, the ‘scare factor’ alone is not affective. Both of these two campaigns look ‘normal’ upon first glance, potentially what makes it so terrifying when we realize that something is not what it seems. It makes these two occurrences, tobacco related illness and reckless driving, seem as though it can happen to us. Because, those two average citizens had it happen to them! The scare factor has evolved, in advertising, to make these frightening occurrences even more shocking. They aim to frighten us through their normality, not their abnormality. Without a doubt the result of heavy market research, the scare campaign has changed to use quiet, psychological warfare – the boogieman is out of a job.