Today I stumbled upon AdFreak’s countdown of the “30 Freakiest Commercials of 2009,” and boy are they freaky. In fact, I was too chicken to watch many of them. Feel free to explore, you brave of heart. Beware bloody faces, ghost children and Hitler in bed.
But what I found interesting for the purposes of this blog, however, is that almost all of the ads are PSAs. Once you get past number 14 (Evian’s “Roller Babies”), all of the TV spots support a social cause aimed at changing behavior. In one ad, Keira Knightly is brutally beaten to raise awareness of domestic abuse in the UK. One commercial shows a girl (mis)treating her doll the way she herself had been treated by her parents. Not one, but two ads star a ghost child haunting the drunk driver who killed him or her. Not the most uplifting site you’ll ever visit.
Why is social marketing so freaky? AdFreak says that “their freaky means [are] apparently justified by humanitarian ends.” I believe that this also stems from a common practice in social marketing—the scare tactic. Most of these ads are not trying to sell a product, but trying to make you change a harmful behavior. One way to discourage harmful behavior is to show the negative consequences. And in these ads the consequences take freaky forms, such as a hideous creature called “doubt” that follows you after unprotected sex.
Social marketing plays by slightly different rules. Advertising for products or services is almost always happy. It most often shows the positive results of if you buy or use such-and-such. Social marketing, however, many times uses the reverse benefit approach. It shows the negative consequences of not doing such-and-such. And sometimes the negative consequences are a little hard to watch.