Spooky ads attempt to scare up customers
Marketers use horror, shock and surprise to attract attention
Let’s say you’re in the mood for a blood-curdling horror flick. You take your seat at the cineplex, making sure you’re a safe distance from the screen and peek out from behind your popcorn.
A man is gassing up his car when suddenly the hose wraps around his legs, throws him into the air and crashes him down onto the car’s hood. But wait a minute, this isn’t the movie. You realize it’s an ad when the man is rescued from the evil gas pump by a Nissan.
Instead of using humour or sex to get our attention, a small subset of commercials attempts to terrify us into watching. While the scary Nissan commercial ran in movie theatres, an even creepier ad for the remake of the movie Carrie ran on YouTube.
The coffee shop was outfitted with several stunt mechanisms that allowed the actress to demonstrate seemingly real telekinetic powers. And a hidden camera captured the reaction of customers.
In a 2011 ad from the U.K., a woman walks through a deserted parking garage. Suddenly, a zombie child appears and follows her. When the woman is finally locked safely inside her car, she looks up only to see the zombie staring at her through the glass.
But for simplifying terror down to its most basic, no one beats German soft drink maker K-Fee. In a 1999 ad, we see a car moving along a winding road in an idyllic green countryside.
For no reason at all, a hideous zombie pops onto the screen and scares the pants off us.
You may have noticed that most of these horror ads are aimed at Millennials, who reliably respond to such shocking, tangential marketing concepts. But when the audience is made up of more vulnerable people — like children or seniors — messages that create trauma may motivate unintended responses.
This 1973 message from the U.K.’s Central Office of Information warned children of the dangers of careless behaviour around water.
The ad was so scary, many children reported never wanting to go swimming again.
So, as with humour and other attention-getting devices, marketers have to make sure horror is strategically balanced and carefully targeted, or its consequences could come back to haunt them.