17 Shocking, Foolish and Dubious Advertisements
Included in this hub :
1 - 17 advertisements with debating points
Video - The Psychology Behind the Ads
You name it, ads try and sell it, but they don't always stick to the straight and narrow. Some are just plain ridiculous, out to shock or lure, titillate and make you laugh; others provoke you into fits of outrage and indignation.
Some, a friend of mine noted, even bend the truth a little! Each day new images and fresh words do battle to win the dollar from your pockets. But is it all about cash and deception?
Let's not forget propaganda. It's one of the most potent weapons in the ongoing war between competing companies and political regimes.
There is another kind of advert - the culturally dubious, where images and words combine to produce sarcasm, insult and controversy!
What follows is a mix of public displays created to stir us up and into action - how effective will they be? For those in education I've included some ideas that could be of use to teachers and students generally or those studying business or sociology. All kinds of class debates and related projects are possible.
Lessons To Be Learned
Advertisements are also a source of teaching material as they're often at the cutting edge of life - reflecting the way society thinks and acts, or even leading and changing the way we look at and react to cultural issues arising.
Used as a catalyst for class debate advertisements are a useful resource for stimulating thoughts and feelings. You could build a lessons (several lessons) around one or two strong images - commercial or otherwise - and have your students create:
- debating material through research and personal experience.
- a debate where one half of the group contests the other half.
- role play relating the theme/issues.
- art work - a collage, visual stands, a film, a play, a musical.
- a folder/portfolio on a specific topic eg sexism.
1. Obesity and Children
Obesity in children is one of the western world's most pressing issues. This image goes straight to the heart of the matter. Using an obese child in an advertisement is controversial but does it help get the message over? Can you stomach it?
Advertisements can be direct and subtle at the same time. Which is the more effective? Is it fair to prey on the guilt of individuals to help sell a product? Is it right to use children in advertisements to single out one company?
2. Clever But Disturbing
Creative ads are one thing but putting a huge hand through someone's head? A big sweaty hand grabbing your brain! The guy is pale and in shock and not at all ready for a telephone conversation. This is off putting . But it means I take a second look, and a third and maybe a fourth. Or more. That's what the creator wanted isn't it?
Manipulation of images is increasingly popular with artists working in the advertising business. If producing weird images is one of the best ways to attract people's attention won't all adverts soon be based on distortion of the real? How will this affect the way we look at each other?
3. Sexism and Soap Opera
Back in the 50's the role of husband and wife was fairly clear cut. The man went out to work, the woman stayed at home. He earned the dosh, she had to keep up appearances to be worthy of his earning powers.
The woman was the vulnerable half of the partnership and risked losing all if she didn't keep up with the fashions. Soap was crucial to keeping a husband happy! Without soap divorce was guaranteed because the woman's skin would dry up, she'd literally lose her face and, according to the advert, her husband!
Sexism is still a major issue in many countries around the world. Pressure on women and girls to conform to the ideals of men can have detrimental effects. How can these pressures be relieved? What is the best way to go about redressing the balance?
4. Exploiting Children?
A child at bedtime handling a gun? This image suggests that for a child to be safe in their own home they need a gun.
In the United States 'the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed'. This statement in the Bill of Rights is part of the second amendment to the Constitution and was originally drawn up in 1790's. Some see the second amendment as a freedom never to be taken away, others see it as an outdated notion adopted at a time of political upheaval, and now inappropriate. Does owning a gun mean more freedom or less? What are the pros and cons of owning guns? Should there be stricter regulations for the gun trade in general?
5. The Bare Facts
This poster depicts near naked males - it's a title for a musical show. They're all smiles and innocence itself. What's to complain about?
Nudity and gender. Would this poster be acceptable if the near naked people were female? Are we immune to public shows of nudity these days anyway? If some countries allow their newspapers to publish nudity why not allow it in advertising? Where do we draw the line?
6. Global Warming
The environment has become a key area of interest and is now high on the agenda for many countries. This poster from the British Council has a hidden message. It suggests that action needs to be taken by developing countries and we must meet together to decide what action they should take. Is this passing the buck? The richer country dictating to the poorer nations?
Is global warming man made or is it a natural phenomenon? Can we or should we do anything about it if it's a true fact? What are governments doing world wide to tackle this issue?
7. Mucho Macho
This group of typical males look macho enough. The message seems to imply that if you're a real man you'll want to become a nurse, or should at least be looking for a career change! Does that mean we usually perceive male nurses as limp wristed wimps so someone has created this ad to compensate? Tut tut. Culturally dubious. Or am I mistaken?
Male nurses are male nurses right? There are big ones and medium ones and small ones and they all have one thing in common - they care for sick people. That takes guts, strength and compassion, qualities macho men just do not have. Right?
8. Animals And Their Rights
Three Friesian cows hoof it down to the local mall - Enid, Daisy and leader Sall. They want to protest about the lack of people eating chicken in town.
Is this exploitation of animals x2? You have cows in an unnatural position being made to look stupid. Their message isn't good news for chickens. What kind of thinking is behind this image? How we treat our farmed animal stock would be a good point to debate. Correct spelling of the English language in advertising would be another!
9. Cosmetic Surgery
This may be an advert for a bra but the language is misleading. To me this image means a girl or woman can have surgery on the cheap. Cosmetic surgery is a boom industry and this advertisement implies that it's so cheap nowadays young women can get their breasts 'improved' for just £19(30$) - that's a ridiculously low and dangerous price. Will buying the bra lead to cosmetic surgery later on?
Is the desire to look beautiful driving too many girls and women too easily towards the surgeon's knife? Isn't beauty in the eye of the beholder? Why aren't people considered beautiful inside but only externally? If a person chooses to have their body altered in any way it's their right and no one should interfere.
This poster ad seems to imply that the country of Italy would be able to afford to buy one Jaguar car! With the European economy currently in turmoil these words only add salt to the wounds.
Italy is the recognised leader when it comes to creating super fast sports cars. Think of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and so on. The idea that one nation can goad another with strong commercial images suggests that, in the free market place, anything goes if it helps sell goods.
If advertisements are created to make us buy goods and services they're also designed to sell an idea. When countries are at war it seems the fine art of propaganda comes to the fore and starts to assert itself. This WWI US Army poster stretches the limits of fine taste and reasoned thinking.
You can see the pickelhaube helmet on the enemy coming ashore somewhere in America, intent on destruction. The pretty woman is meant to represent liberty and freedom.
When one nation is threatened by another and war ensues winning that war becomes all consuming. The first world war brought home the fact that tens of millions of ordinary people could be actively engaged in fighting on a scale never seen before. New strategies had to be developed and this King Kong like image was meant to unite a people primarily through fear.
12. Human Billboard
The ultimate mobile commercial. This young man has been paid to advertise a Canadian Farmer's Market. He designed his own logo and owns all copyrights!
Should people use themselves as billboards? How far could you take this idea? If you are willing to be sponsored by a company what does this say about the person and the company?
13. Votes For Afghan Women
This image displayed openly on a road in Afghanistan would have been unthinkable under the Taliban regime. Their politics denied women votes, education and basic freedoms we in the west have taken for granted for over 150 years. The future is far from stable however. Coalition troops are due to leave within a couple of years and then it will be up to the Afghans themselves to keep their hard won freedoms intact.
Is it right for a coalition of countries to invade another and completely take over the reigns of power in the pursuit of terrorists? Is regime change a long term strategy for the stronger nations of the world? Why does terrorism exist? Does religion have a role to play in all this?
14. Chew It Over
One day you get a funny taste in your mouth. You need to freshen up your breath. You buy a pack of these light blue mints and start sucking and chewing. Within minutes you find yourself working on the fundamental formulae of the universe! Just wild. And that's not all. You decide to eat three at once and guess what? Your hair turns silver grey and you start talking with a German accent.
Advertisements should not make stupid statements that are blatantly untrue. Or is there a bit of comic tongue-in-cheekness going on here? Is it acceptable to use Einstein, a genius, to sell a product that rots your teeth? How much spin can an advert get away with?
15. Vintage Surrealism
Alice in Wonderland meets Kafka! A thoughtful young child flying on the back of a giant insect is an image you wouldn't normally want to associate with the smoking of pipe tobacco. Yet back in 1869 the creators of this richly colourful design obviously had other thoughts. This image looks as if it came out of a story or play. As You Like It is the title of Shakespeare's comedy set in the Forest of Arden in Warwickshire but I can't find reference to any flying insect in the play. Smoking kids on monster bugs? Not really Shakespearean.
Smoking is still an emotive subject to talk about with some teenagers and older adults. Most smokers see it as a universal 'right' to smoke legally bought tobacco. Growing concerns about passive inhalation of smoke has completely changed the ball game in some countries, where it is against the law to smoke in bars, pubs and restaurants. How do we responsibly preserve rights yet stop children from being influenced at too early an age?
16. Mixed Messages
A strangely worded ad. What is the overall message here, and who is the target audience? There seems to be several themes - religion, feminism and politics with a strong hint of racism.
You Can Trust Me Now! Really! This is an indirect appeal to those who are disenchanted with life and politics. Is the soap for real or has it a metaphorical role to play? Subtle and blatant psychological forces at work which a debate and analysis could help unravel.
17. Culturally Dubious or Fair Reasoning?
All is fair in love, war and politics. But how can comparing the President of the United States to Hitler and Lenin make sense?
There are those in the United States who, rightly or wrongly, view any elected government with suspicion. Governments impose laws and regulations on the people and these inevitably lead to curbing of personal freedoms. And it's this fundamental clash that causes images like the one above to be produced.
It's an ongoing debate the world over - the rights of individuals to live their lives as free people and the need of a democratically elected President or government to wield power.
The Psychology Behind the Ads
Advertising images will become more sophisticated in the future as technology advances and demands for more goods and fresh ideas increase. Special effects are already beginning to exert influence but how will the language change with the image? Will sex, psychology and shock tactics remain a force in advertising?
If you could design your own advert for whatever reason I wonder what it would look like?
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© 2012 Andrew Spacey