I want to talk a bit about visual metaphor used in advertising to convey ideas and messages and to provoke a response from the audience; in particular, how these visual metaphors are used in shock advertising campaigns. Anyone studying advertising will already have a pretty good understanding of what I’m talking about, but it is just as relevant for the other major media fields as well.
The fields of advertising, public relations and journalism have always been closely related. Each one uses persuasive techniques in different ways to support existing opinions, change attitudes and cause actions by those who view their output. Through everyday experiences, a person acquires a certain set of beliefs and attitudes about other people, places, objects and issues. For this reason, advertisers strive to choose images that connect with their audiences’ experiences on a personal level to bring out new beliefs or attitudes towards what they’re trying to sell. The purpose of an advertisement is to attract attention, stimulate interest, create an opinion, and move the viewer to a specific action.
Most information is communicated through the mass media. More and more, that information relies on the emotional appeal inherent in visual presentation. Walter Lippmann stated that “Pictures have always been the surest way of conveying an idea” – what he’s saying is that there is a need for images in order to change a person’s attitude.
Would you agree with this? In terms of advertising, are you more engaged by a plain text advertisement or one that features a relevant image? For me, I tend to personally connect more with an advertisement that contains an image; to me it is more eye-catching and therefore more engaging – my eyes are drawn more to pictures than words.
Advertisements often feature visual metaphors to attract the viewer’s attention. A visual metaphor is the representation of an abstract concept through a concrete visual image that bears some analogy to the concept. Because of photography’s ability to arouse interest, pictures are sometimes used to shock audiences. Shock advertising deliberately startles its audience by violating norms for social values and personal ideals. The goal of shock advertising is to break free of advertising clutter, capture attention and create a response, as well as have a high impact on the audience; sometimes shock advertising can have debilitating social implications for one or more particular groups of people.
I’m going to use one example that is an advertisement from a shock campaign for French non-profit organisation AIDES, created by TBWA in 2004. Just a warning it is intended to alarm the audience so some of you may find the images offensive. It’s a bit out there and there was a fair amount of controversy surrounding this ad because of the images used to convey the message. The small text is written in French, but translates to “Without protection, you are making love to AIDS, protect yourself!”
What are your initial reactions to this ad? What do you think of it?
The main purpose of the ad is to alert the audience that there is the risk of contracting AIDS from having unprotected sex. It wants the viewer to perceive a constructed reality of unprotected sex. This constructed reality being that the dangers of participating are equivalent to performing the same act with venomous creatures. It instructs and persuades the viewer to take responsibility of their health, by using protection during sexual activity, and to keep in mind that AIDS can be easily contracted through sexual intercourse without the necessary precautions.
Is this ad really effective in conveying its message? Why? What visual metaphors are present in this advertisement? Due to the nature of advertising, the answer to these questions will differ from person to person.
To me (and keep in mind, I don’t actually feel this way about AIDS sufferers, this is just what I feel the advertisement is suggesting), the use of poisonous arachnids coupling with a man and a woman who obviously seem to be enjoying themselves implies that those who engage in unprotected sex are often unaware or uncaring of the consequences, and are blind to the dangers, and it asks the viewer to regard the act of safe sex with the same kind of fear and caution that a spider would instil. The fact that these insects are huge can also be interpreted as a metaphor for the sheer scale of the aids epidemic being ignored by the oblivious population who engage in unprotected sex.
The scorpion and the spider are both creatures that either ensnare or capture their prey before consuming them relentlessly, so using them sends a clear message that giving AIDS the chance to “get you in its clutches” will almost certainly lead to you being trapped and consumed by the disease in a similar, defenceless, fashion.
So as I stated earlier, due to the images in these shock advertising campaigns there are often social implications that arise. The ad succeeds in fulfilling its desired purpose (fear) as it uses visually arresting images, however, it may alter society’s perception of AIDS sufferers, with the metaphor belittling and demonising them, and portraying them as some kind of grotesque creature. So while this advertisement intends to promote the use of contraception as a positive prevention of AIDS, it may also have negative social effects on those fighting the disease.
I guess my major thought is whether shock advertising campaigns like these have enough of a positive change on society to warrant the potential belittling or demonising of one particular group of people. I’ve seen a lot of anti-smoking shock campaigns that show images of unborn babies being strangled by a rope made from cigarette smoke, but do these campaigns actually have an effect? Do they stop people from smoking, or do they further encourage non-smokers to roll their eyes at “irresponsible” smokers?
I’d love to hear peoples’ thoughts on this topic.