How reckless behaviour sells you products

According to CBC Ad Guy Bruce Chambers, one of the ways marketers get attention is by showing their products being used in a reckless or unhealthy manner. Here is a look at people behaving badly in commercials, all in the hopes of selling you something.

Depicting reckless behaviour can generate huge attention and loyalty, says CBC Ad Guy

The 2013 "Got Insurance?" advertising campaign by the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and ProgressNow Colorado Education aimed to promote the benefits of the American Affordable Care Act. (

One of the ways marketers get attention is by showing their products being used in a reckless or unhealthy manner, all in the hopes of selling you something.

In this Jeep ad, we open on an SUV traversing a steep mountain slope in winter. An avalanche lets loose above, possibly triggered by the SUV. The vehicle attempts to outrun the avalanche, but is finally overtaken. And just when we think nature has enacted cruel justice, the SUV breaks out of the snow.

This commercial uses reckless behaviour to sell SUVs to the kind of buyers who want to be seen as fearless adventurers.

Now, how about an ad that celebrates the symptoms of a mental condition?

Rather than presenting the Ziploc product as a solution, it's gleefully positioned as something of an enabler for a self-described "hoarder." Attention-getting, yes. But at what cost to a certain percentage of the people watching?

Similarly, a 2013 print campaign played on human weakness.

An ad from the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and ProgressNow Colorado's 2013 "Got Insurance?" campaign. (ProgressNow Colorado)

These ads were meant to entice Colorado millennials to sign up for the Affordable Care Act. But their playful depiction of irresponsible alcohol use and sex — while popular among the target audience — generated major criticism from politicians.

A 2008 campaign targeted the same age group. In the ad, a young woman is being chastised at the laundromat as "other people are trying to do their laundry too." The young woman retaliates by dumping some of her bright orange Cheetos into the other woman's dryer-load of whites.

The ad ends with the words, "Join us" and points viewers to, where people could post videos of themselves committing other forms of Cheetos protest.

Of course, some ads spotlighting reckless behaviour do face consequences, such as this 2014 Jaguar ad, where we see a car roaring through a parking garage and onto the street.

The U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority banned the ad for portraying excessive speed and encouraging irresponsible driving.

A year later, the same regulator banned a Thomas Cook ad for depicting dangerous criminal behaviour that children could mimic.

In this ad, we see a vacationer flattening the tire on the tour bus he was supposed to return home on.

Depicting reckless behaviour can generate huge attention and loyalty, especially when the target market is young people. And if the irresponsible ads are banned or blasted by critics, they attract even more notice and allegiance.

In fact, about the only way such ads can lose is when they result in massive lawsuits by product users who followed their advice and incurred significant injury.

Bruce Chambers is a syndicated advertising columnist for CBC Radio. 

About the Author

Bruce Chambers

Ad Guy

Bruce began his career writing radio commercials for stations in Red Deer, Calgary and Toronto. Then in-house at a national department store, and then ad agencies with campaigns for major national and regional clients. For the past couple of decades, he's been a freelance creative director and copywriter for agencies in Calgary and Victoria. He began his weekly Ad Guy columns on CBC Radio in 2003.


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