'Shock Ads': Do They Get People to Stop Smoking or Drive Safely? Or Do They Go too Far?

"If you can use a reaction that was captured in a very controlled, very safe environment to illustrate the impact that a person's smoking might have on their children if they become sick or if they die from tobacco use," Willett said, "if that motivates thousands of people to quit, then it's an effective ad. It was worth the investment, worth that approach."

Many of these shock ads, including "Separation" and the texting while driving ad are made in Britain or Australia. According to Bob Molineaux, a partner in Venables Bell & Partners, an advertising agency responsible for similar ads, "They're a lot more open-minded in Australia and Britain than we are, so they're at home with that type of what you would call shock advertising."

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Lippert, however, is concerned that American audiences are becoming more desensitized to gore and gross body parts, which they see on TV shows like "CSI" and "House." For example, she said, in the case of the "Artery" ad, "I can just see two teenage boys going, 'Hey, did you see that aorta? It was so cool, the amount of fat that came out of that!' I don't think that's the way to go."

In 2005, the state of Montana was battling a huge problem with meth usage among teenagers and young adults. The Montana Meth Project began a gritty campaign of shock ads aimed at cutting the state's raging meth problem. Molineaux's agency created the ads, and he said they work by appealing to kids' vanity or by shifting their focus to their families.

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But Are Shock Ads Working?

"Kids often don't really think about themselves, but if you tell them, 'You're going to hurt your sister or your brother or your parents,' they're like, 'I would never do that,'" he said. "All of a sudden they start to really grab hold of what this could mean if they got addicted to meth. It's not just about them, it's about their families and people that they love."

The Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey, conducted by the Montana Office of Public Instruction in coordination with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,found that between 2005 (when the ads began running) and 2009, that meth use in Montana dropped by 63 percent while meth-related crime dropped by 62 percent.

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As for New York smokers, the state Department of Health used focus groups to determine which of the ads might make smokers quit. According to Willett, "Over 70 percent of smokers said the ads made them stop and think about quitting. That's the first step, to make them think about it and the next step is to make them act."

Willett said that while 70 percent think about quitting, over 60 percent of smokers who see the ads actually attempt to quit. Whether or not they were successful in their attempt is unclear.

Molineaux said that the shock ads will most likely continue, and viewers could eventually see ads that up the shock factor even further.

"Eventually, what we call shocking will become the norm, so people will have to step out even further," he said.

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