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Caution.jpgA couple of entries ago I remarked about the more graphic packaging that is being required on cigarette packs. I praised the campaign for the results it is already getting even though it hasn’t officially launched yet. Results are the ultimate measure of success, but even with that as the most objective measure, can we go too far in an effort to get them? As much as I want to discourage my 4-year-old son from smoking when he’s older, I’m not too sure I want to have to explain these ads to him if we happen to walk by the tobacco counter in the grocery store in the coming months.

Here are a couple of examples of ads that the public thought went too far. As with the cigarette packaging, let me caution you that these are very emotionally stirring and are videos rather than just print ads, so before you click their accompanying links you might just want to bear that in mind.

The first is related to domestic violence. You can click here to view it on Youtube, and let me again caution you about its graphic nature. You may also want to turn down the volume on your computer if you’re in a public place. This was ran by the United Way, and I remember being absolutely stopped in my tracks when I first saw it on television and later heard it on the radio. I thought it was good because it dramatized the seriousness of the situation and that there are more victims in these cases than just the person who is on the receiving end of the assault. This ad got some people very upset and had them demanding the United Way discontinue them, which to their credit, they promptly did. I remember hearing one mom on a news program who said she had heard the radio version of this ad when she was in the car with her kids, and she didn’t know exactly how to respond when the children asked, “Mommy, is that lady going to be alright?”

Click here to see a more recent example. This one is also an anti-smoking ad and it features a child being abandoned in a busy train station. It also generated a lot of push-back not only because viewers thought it played a little too heavily on emotion, but because they wondered what on earth the producers of the commercial did to the child to make him cry.

Something we have to consider as marketers is that we don’t want to attract the attention of our target market at the expense of spurring the ire of other stakeholders. They have a bigger voice than ever in today’s digital marketplace. If we push the emotional buttons too hard or too often, our very effective, results-yielding campaign could backfire on us in the form of negative press that could in a very short time undo a lot of brand goodwill that took years to build.

Marketing may look easy, but it’s not a game for amateurs” - Ries & Trout, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

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