'Shockvertising' a way for non-profits to grab attention

Non-profits are increasingly turning to shockvertising to generate more attention than they could afford using conventional messaging.

Edgy ads attract attention, raise awareness for cash-strapped organizations

The Lung Cancer Alliance opted for a series of eye-catching, controversial ads to fight the stigma associated with the disease. (Lung Cancer Alliance )

With a sluggish economy and government cutbacks, many non-profit organizations are left with limited financial resources. This sometimes results in charitable advertising that tries to shock viewers into paying attention.

For example, Unicef India’s 2014 Poo2Loo campaign is aimed at the 620 million Indians who defecate outdoors every day.

Changing such widespread behaviour with a conventional ad campaign would take a colossal budget, something Unicef doesn’t have. Instead, the charity produced a music video that shows an animated singing and dancing Mr. Poo.

Finding itself in a similar situation in 2012, Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation posted a mini-movie called The Undeading.

In a post-apocalyptic Toronto, a woman is attacked by zombies. Terror-stricken, she suffers a heart attack, but miraculously the zombies know CPR and quickly get to work in making the woman "undead."

As a way to educate the public about CPR, this may seem a little tangential and gross. But non-profit organizations are increasingly trying to make up for their low ad budgets by creating messages so provocative that people can’t help but notice them.

In a 2012 ad for the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention, we see a comedic Ron Burgundy-type therapist drawing attention to suicide by demonstrating the zany things men get up to.

In an equally unsettling use of humour from the same year, this ad shows a woman fawning over her cats. Then type fills the screen with the message, "Cat lovers deserve to die."

After a pause, the type continues with … "If they have lung cancer."

In this especially shocking ad for the U.K.’s Pilion Trust, a man wearing a sandwich board is handing out leaflets on a busy street.

Warning: This video contains explicit language.

The sandwich board uses the F-word to communicate the message "BEEP the poor." Understandably, this motivates an extremely hostile reaction from passersby.

Juxtaposed with an image of the same man's sandwich board with the text, "Help the poor," the ad shows people walking right by, totally ignoring him.

Non-profits are increasingly turning to "shockvertising" to generate more attention than they could afford using conventional messaging. However, the last example clearly demonstrates the risk.

The bottom line? Be shocking enough to get attention and you could offend donors to the extent that they refuse to give. Be too ordinary and you sometimes get no response at all.