Monday, 6 September 2010

Shock tactics

The Charity Commission have recently updated the guidelines on fundraising and have warned charities over the risks to reputation associated with using shock tactics to encourage donations and raise awareness. After reading the article in PR Week it got me thinking:

Should shock tactics be allowed? And in such a crowded market place are they effective anymore?

We’ve all seen the adverts featuring the lonely puppy tied up by the side of the road and the children living in a shanty town surrounded by rubbish but has the time come for charities to find new methods of attracting our attention?

The majority of people know what these charities stand for so don’t need to be reminded every time they see the advert. Some people may find the content of the advert distressing and be so shocked that they disengage with the advert and the charity completely because they associate them in a negative way. There is also the argument that one of the reasons people donate money to charities is because they experience a sense of guilt, these adverts are encouraging this as individuals will look at themselves sat in their comfortable well furnished houses and feel bad. Would it not be better to try and educate donors as to how their money would benefit and show the work they have done already? This is an approach that Cancer Research UK has adopted and I feel it has been successful for them.

However is this all just further evidence of the so called ‘nanny state’ trying to shield people from what goes on in the real world? The advert represents what the charity stands for and illustrates the type of work it does. As my grandparents would say: ‘If people don’t like it then they can just turn it over.’

I do believe that when used effectively shock tactics can be a brilliant addition to a campaign as they break through advertising clutter and are likely to be remembered. In my opinion the THINK car safety campaigns use shock tactics effectively and are memorable. The main message of the advert is always remembered and sometimes I find myself quoting them saying things such as: ‘Don’t be a back seat killer!’ to my friends when they are in the back seats.

Shock tactics should be used with caution and extensive research should be done as to not offend viewers or shock anyone too much. There will always be people who prefer not to see them but that’s their choice. A balance is needed, therefore a campaign should be both informational and attention seeking.

What do you think about adverts relying on shock tactics? Is there a place for shock advertising? Would you be more likely to donate to a charity who didn’t use them or not?


  1. Interesting - I actually did a piece of research with one of my lecturers this year (that was picked up and published in The Drum) on exactly this subject.

    We did research and polled the public.

    And found that (strangely) the public DID respond to fear marketing, and actually they wanted to be scared into action through fear.

    We didn't think it would trend that way. We thought the public would not appreciate being preached to, but there you go!

  2. Thank you for your comment. I love hearing other people's thoughts on a topic.

    Wow - very interesting! I bet it was fantastic to be able to carry out such research. Would you be able to send me a link to where it was published? I would love to read it :-)