Miss Y on going six feet under
Think about the typical words that people might use to describe a piece of advertising or design that they liked: beautiful, modern, clean, elegant, happy, funny, cool. And yes, actually that's what many ads and designs strive to be. We want to get people to like the ideas and brands we promote so we give them what they like (to see, hear, read, experience...).
But there's something refreshing in the approach of doing just the opposite of that. Give people what they don't like. Work with concepts and visuals that are unpleasant and/or taboo instead of ones that fit into the norms/comfort zones/the cool. Tap into the things that run through the undercurrents of society. Basically use turn-offs to turn-on people... And it works.
As one of the lighter examples, look at Dove's campaign for real beauty. Where models were regular women (with all kinds of figures) picked out as they went about their daily lives. Where the tricks of Photoshop retouching were revealed. Ads that challenged society's concept of beauty. Or take a look at Naked Communications’ Fray Bentos (pies) campaign that offers “real pies for real blokes” through The 'Real Bloke Challenge' that moved around to various cities in North England getting each city to back its local ‘real bloke’ through various forms of communication. Again, the real bloke comes in all shapes and sizes from anywhere in the social ladder, a challenge to society’s concept of what a real man is. This ad for YouTubers also fits into this category of showing what’s real.
What about something more uncomfortable? Like death. Actually that’s what got me started thinking about this whole thing. I was watching Six Feet Under (my personal favorite) which is about death, and I realized how uncomfortable I was watching the first few episodes especially when they started advertising death products like embalming fluid as if they were selling the world’s best facial moisturizer. The DVD box has this written on the cover: Everything Everyone Everywhere Ends. And I’m not the only twisted one out there that loves this show. It’s a best seller; people just love that someone dared to make a show based on such a taboo subject and that through some dark humor, it makes death an ok thing to talk about, even joke about... Actually AdAge’s Campaign of the Century (Funeral)by DDB NY for the VW Beetle is well ahead of its times in that it uses death and wills in a humorous way to sell a car.
I was reading an article in ICON magazine entitled 'Design is Evil' (Nov.2006). It showcases a variety of contemporary designers who are “producing work that aims to shock and undermine”. While a lot of this work seems a little overboard, they scream out their messages clearly (maybe too clearly) in a way that is very hard to ignore. In advertising this reaction is essential especially given that attention is difficult to capture for very long these days. Shocking and making people even just the slightest bit uncomfortable has the potential to alter peoples perception and reactions to certain subject areas.