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Shock and Awe Advertising

Updated on March 26, 2017

Mark Twain

Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.”

I Love Lucy

Lucy trying to advertise elixir
Lucy trying to advertise elixir | Source

When Television Had Censors

Those of us who are old enough will recall how Desi and Lucy and Rob and Mary Tyler Moore slept in separate beds. In those days, television censors were a busy breed, vigilantly protecting the public from anything the ‘moral police’ deemed unsavory. When “I Dream of Genie” first aired in September 1965 Barbara Eden was prohibited from showing her bare belly while donning the genie costume. However, gradually things began to change on TV not only with the shows, but the types of products advertised.

Where Do Babies Come From

As a child, I was uncomfortable with many of the National Geographic shows, especially when they filmed topless native tribes and my dad would commence clearing his throat. I either left the room or put my head down. I was a naïve kid back in the 1950s. For crying out loud, I was 10 years old and still thought babies came from storks until my uncle’s wife had a child. I happened to see her nursing her newborn and I ran from the room with a face as red as a beet.

Crossing Boundaries in Advertising

Women's Volleyball
Women's Volleyball | Source

Adult Themed Commercials

Today we are hit with a barrage of adult themed commercials. In the 1980s we began seeing ads for feminine hygiene products with women riding horses, jogging, going to the beach and playing sports. In the late 1990s, Viagra was introduced to the advertising world with their little blue pill…the miracle drug…for male erectile dysfunction. Hot on their heels the onslaught of ads for sexual enhancement creams and gels and, even more, commercials for urinary incontinence, gas, and adult diapers. In other words, all of the things we would never want to discuss in public are now thrown at us, our children and everyone else who has a television on during breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Graphic Images are a Turnoff

Major news networks, reputable newspapers, and magazines with journalistic scruples all refuse to show graphic videos or photos of torture, death by starvation, horrific autopsies, body parts or the ravages of animal cruelty. Although we are all aware that these things do occur, we don’t want our eyes or ears assaulted with the realism these photos, videos and personal stories provide.

No Place Like Home

My Boy Dexter
My Boy Dexter | Source

Arms of an Angel

Several years ago we were lured into a beautiful song, softly flowing over the airwaves. The medley and words were comforting and warm. Then we looked up at the screen in front of us. For you see, Sarah McLachlan was singing, “In the Arms of an Angel.” It was a song written by Ms. McLachlan and inspired by the heroine overdose of the keyboardist with the group, “Smashing Pumpkins.” Sarah released “Angel” in 1997 and since 2007, it has been used by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to bring awareness and fundraise for sheltered dogs and cats. The ad has raised millions of dollars, but as an animal lover, I cannot look at dogs and cats with missing eyes or sad faces behind stark cages. Those images sadden and sicken me. All these years later and still I haven’t watched the entire commercial.

Marlboro Man


James Dean, Lucky Strikes and T-shirts

Today, nearly everyone above the age of 5 knows that smoking cigarettes are bad. That wasn’t always the case, though. People puffed away on unfiltered Lucky Strikes, Chesterfields and Raleigh’s, to name a few. If we watched a movie or television show we experienced the glamor, machismo and even sophistication of smoking. Boys wanted to be like James Dean and fold a pack of smokes up into the short sleeve of our T-shirts because it was, “Cool man.” Just as we started to accept that the Marlboro Man was the epitome of rugged manhood, the United States Surgeon General Luther Terry began bursting our bubbles when in 1964 he reported cigarette smoking was linked to cancer and heart disease.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has taken on the role of exhaling a constant toxic ad campaign with the express purpose to shock smokers with graphic imagery and commentary never before shown, all in an effort to scare people into quitting smoking. Beginning in 2012 the CDC dropped napalm on us with a $54 million shock and awe campaign designed to burn our minds with the horrors of smoking via public service announcements. We’ve had our eyes and ears assaulted by former smokers speaking with a voice-box, attempting to shave around a hole in the stoma due to their throat being removed because of cancer and showing amputated toes.

Recently the anti-smoking commercials are airing either 5 minutes before the hour or 25 minutes after the hour. It is a ploy being utilized knowing that viewers want to see the ending of the shows they have been watching. I suppose in the world of public relations timing is everything. However, for me, I find these advertisements visually disturbing and consequently, I turn the channel each and every time they pop up on TV. I’ve actually gotten quite good at timing them so I don’t miss the ending of the programs I’ve been watching.

Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette - Commander Cody

Freedom of Choice

I have also learned a new word in the process of being buried under an avalanche of scare and fear advertising. When people feel their freedoms of choice are being taken away they are negatively impacted with a feeling referred to as reactance. This results in people doing exactly the opposite of what the messenger wanted them to do. In other words, when inundated with the drumbeat of pushing one agenda, some will act contrary, simply to prove they are in charge of their own free will.

Time to Eat

Rest assured, if you watch television long enough you will be subjected to the heartbreak of psoriasis, toenail fungus, irritable bowel syndrome, shingles, bed wetting, urinary incontinence, before and after photos of obese people and of course, the removal of unsightly back hair. You will have to excuse me for now while I fix my dinner plate and settle in for some wholesome TV entertainment.

Advertising Run Amok

Is Advertising too graphic?

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Written By: Dennis L. Page


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    • pagesvoice profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis L. Page 

      10 months ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

      I honestly don't know how parents shelter their children from so many of the adult-themed advertisements that hound us. Also, most of us aren't doctors so why are they hawking their wares to us? They should be selling to physicians and not the general public.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      11 months ago from sunny Florida

      Points well taken....Dennis... we know a lot of things are happening but do not want it thrown in our faces ...most of us don't anyway. The animal cruelty video you spoke of saddens me and I too am unable to watch it. I DO care about their plight but do not wish to see these precious neglected and abused creatures.

      The sad thing too is that tv is saturated with commercials that are offensive and objectionable. I find myself turning the sound off or turning the channel or turning the tv off more and more. So glad you shared this and hope it is widely read.

      Angels once again are on the way ps

    • pagesvoice profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis L. Page 

      11 months ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

      Children are exposed to so much advertising that their little heads must be swimming in a sea of confusion. Many ads running are ault themed and chidldren shouldn't be seeing or hearing them. Truth be told...a lot of advertising during the dinner hour turns my stomach.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      It really is unbelievable what is allowed on television now. I remember well the ads from when I was a kid. Heck, I remember the first time I heard someone say "damn" on television. I was mildly shocked . .. now there doesn't seem to be any limits, and I can't see the good in that kind of freedom.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      3 years ago from North Texas

      Agree that some advertising goes too far. On the other hand, I think sometimes adults, especially parents, make some things too mysterious, and end up making the situation worse as a result.

      My daughter knew there was no stork when she was just 3 years old. I didn't want her to go through the instruction that this was dirty and that was dirty, etc. It has been proven to inhibit normal responses in both sexes. I let her know that if it was dirty a shower would correct that situation pretty quick in most cases. God created sex, not to be abused like it so often is, but not to shame people with either.

      Yes, I think some advertisements go too far and I really don't miss not having a TV. :)

    • pagesvoice profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis L. Page 

      3 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

      Our children and grandchildren are exposed to an adult themed world and aren't give the opportunity to enjoy the innocence of being a child.

    • Shades-of-truth profile image

      Emily Tack 

      3 years ago from USA

      And I would be delighted if things like that were NEVER aired!

      (Apologies for not being grammatically correct in my comment - I started with "And", and for "yelling", but this is one of many subjects about which I am passionate.

      I fear that history will show this present era to be preoccupied with things of a sexual nature. That mindset has brought many a nation to its knees. If things do not change, we are leaving behind a legacy of licentiousness.

    • pagesvoice profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis L. Page 

      3 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

      Emily, thank you again for your input and your efforts to clean things up. I'm curious what ever happened to "family hour" on television? There was a time when certain language and innuendoes of an adult nature couldn't be aired until later in the evening. Sadly, those days are long gone.

    • Shades-of-truth profile image

      Emily Tack 

      3 years ago from USA

      I agree, Dennis. I am so sad, that the generation being raised today is at the receiving end of the dregs of morality. Is it any wonder why there are so many social problems in our country?

      Years ago, when I was still raising my "tribe", I felt is was my mission to clean up our community. Thankfully, my efforts were successful, even to the point of helping change some things that were being being sponsored by one of the three largest hospitals in our city. It made front-page news.

      What has always bothered me the most, is that it is extremely difficult to get other people to join the fight for decency in programming and advertising. I have attempted, over the years, to elicit response and support from others who are also repulsed by the current fare. It is almost impossible.

      Oh, they were swift to applaud me, when the "clean-up" was successful, but they were not interested in being in the vanguard of the fight.

      Great hub!

    • pagesvoice profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis L. Page 

      3 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

      First of all I want to thank you for dropping in and taking the time to read and comment on this post.

      Like you, the commercials today I find way too graphic, and quite frankly, downright obscene and offensive. I would be embarrassed if an ad for Viagra, Depends, or a host of other private topics came on TV while our grandson was here.

      We've somehow lost our way regarding what is and isn't acceptable.

    • Shades-of-truth profile image

      Emily Tack 

      3 years ago from USA

      I am with you, Dennis, 100%. Until I remarried, over 6 years ago after being a widow for over 10 years, I did not realize how awful and crude television advertising had become. I did not have cable TV, by choice, and was not interested in watching soap operas, game shows, etc.

      Now, the television is on constantly in our home. My husband uses it for "background noise". I detest it. I cannot imagine raising my children with those horrific commercials playing in the background. They are embarrassing to me, even at MY age.

      He is usually on the History channel, or Discovery, or the movie channels, only. Nonetheless, we are subjected to crude, inappropriate advertisements.

      Our nation has taken a swan dive into smut, in my opinion.

    • pagesvoice profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis L. Page 

      3 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

      A good example of how viewers respond to advertising was the anticipated Super Bowl ad for Go Daddy showing the puppy for sale. The TV audience was outraged and consequently, Go Daddy pulled the ad. The ads that trouble me are ones referring to bodily functions, adult themed products, animal cruelty and pharmaceutical companies hawking their drugs.

    • JPac1 profile image

      James Packard 

      3 years ago from Columbia, Missouri

      It's an interesting balance between privacy and progress. What's so conservative it's naïve and close-minded, what's too progressive it's provocative and graphic? There used to be a bigger rift even between broadcast vs. cable content. Now it's a question of how the viewer responds to the advertising. Thanks for sharing. Critical consumption, especially of advertising, is important.

    • pagesvoice profile imageAUTHOR

      Dennis L. Page 

      3 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

      So many of these ads used to be things discussed only with our doctors and behind closed doors. Now everything is out in the open for all to see and hear and in my opinion, that isn't necessarily a good thing. I think shock and awe may work for some, but for me it is a real turn off.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      3 years ago from New York

      Where do I begin? How do you explain to your three or four year old what Viagra is? I too am broken hearted by those terrible animal abuse commercials. Maybe I'm missing their impact but they're awful as are the ones of people dying of cancer.

      I understand the reasoning but do they really think the audience they want to reach is watching? Its like preaching to the choir.

      As for the "pill" parade, if the commercial doesn't irritate you, the list of possible side effects will scare you into not taking that particular medication.

      Timely, well done hub!

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.


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