They call it “shockvertising” — ads made to shock their way into your memory by way of gruesome violence, over-the-top sexuality, or other taboo-shredding imagery.
Ad agencies around the world have adopted the audacious method, with activist organisations like PETA specializing in scandalous imagery.
Italian clothing retailer Benetton pioneered the style in the ’80s. Its now-iconic campaigns have received mixed reviews, like an award-winning AIDS awareness ad from 1991 that showed a father holding the lifeless body of his son in a hospital bed.
The style is powerful, but it can backfire, like when the World Wildlife Fund drew ire for comparing the 2004 Tsunami disaster to the the World Trade Center attack.
We took print images from the past few decades to give you a look into the global shockvertising scene. It’s up to you to decide if they’re brilliant, offensive, or both.
Kim Bhasin contributed research to this article.
Mums Demand Action for Gun Sense in America suggests an imbalance in American legislation. 'Little Red Riding Hood.' (USA, 2013)
UN Women uses actual Google auto-completes to show how widespread misogyny is. 'Women Need To Be Seen As Equal.' (International, 2013)
The International League Against Racism And Anti-Semitism made an illustration of systemic racism. 'Your skin colour shouldn't dictate your future.' (France, 2013)
Crisis Relief Singapore won the Cannes Lion advertising award for its commentary of social media slacktavism. 'Liking isn't helping.' (Singapore, 2013)
Thai Health boldly illustrates the connection between sleepiness and accidents. 'Don't Drive Sleepy.' (Thailand, 2010)
Deutscher Tierschutz Bund e.V shows that animals suffer like people do. 'Pig,' and 'Mink.' (Germany, 2010)
Prachachat Newspaper makes a strong point about the press's role in transparency. 'School.' (Thailand, 2010)
Droit des Non Fumeurs drew lots of anger for its anti-smoking campaign. 'Smoking is being a slave to tobacco.' (France, 2010)
Mettiamocilatesta.it used a decapitated Santa to ask people to keep spending money on advertising. 'Don't Cut a Dream.' (Italy, 2009)
Reporters Without Borders frames the death of a journalist during conflict reporting as a terrible injustice. 'Ink.' (France, 2009)
Good Parent Poland makes the effects of child abuse vivid. 'You can lose more than your patience.' (Poland, 2009)
WWF Brasil triggered global anger (and issued a formal apology) after this image used 9/11 to illustrate the number of people killed in the 2004 Asian tsunami. 'Tsunami.' (Brazil, 2009)
Concordia Children's Services looks after abandoned babies in Manila, the capitol of the Philippines. 'Piglets.' (Philippines, 2008)
Corporate Chhattisgarh sponsored an ad that asks a fundamental question about terrorism. 'Martyr.' (India, 2008)
Serve made a heavily sexualized ad confronting statutory rape. 'You Need Help,' and 'It's Wrong.' (USA, 2008)
Family Network Foundation cleverly speaks out against neglecting older parents. 'Don't make your parents jealous of your other loved ones.' (Thailand, 2008)
Hanes used caricatures of slurs to sell undergarments. 'Because the World Gives You Enough Labels.' (India, 2008)
Dolce and Gabbana was widely criticised for this ad that arguably glamorizes gang rape. Unnamed. (International, 2007)
IP Press Men's Magazine makes a heinous point about gender-specific targeting. 'Kennedy Assassination.' (Belgium, 2007)
Sisley's high-fashion ad draws a thin line between addiction and fashion. 'Fashion Junkie.' (China, 2007)
German Olympic Sport Federation made a clear link between activity and appearance. 'David.' (Germany, 2007)
Benetton uses an image of the death of AIDS activist David Kirby as part of its inclusive -- and divisive -- ad campaign. 'United Colours.' (International, 1980s-90s)
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