Offensive advertisments. Does the problem exist?

Recently I got interested in the effects, specifically abusive, that are caused by lots of advertising campaigns.

Particularly, I am really anxious about the issue of portrayal women in adverts inducing negative self-esteem, lack of confidence and more serious problems such as depression, sociopathy and anorexia.

In this post I would like to concentrate on the overall questions: ‘How do actually consumers feel about so-called ‘insulting’ adverts?’ and ‘Why do organisations use abusive images in their advertisements?’.

Anti-smoking advert
NHS campaign against smoking

Do you feel comfortable looking at the advert above? I bet you do not.

Tom de Castella, BBS news journalist, discusses the results of the survey conducted by Adverting Standard Authority (  It was discovered by ASA that many participants, who took part in research, stated that the content of charity adverts is overdiligent in trying to make people feel guilty, that is to say it puts a strain on them. According to ASA, International aid, animal welfare and child protection are considered to be the most stressful themes in the area of charity. With regard to ASA the shocking approach that used by majority of charities has some  risks attached, because people would rather turn off something that makes them feel too uncomfortable than watch it. The answer from the side of advertising industry is the following. Claire Beale, the editor of advertising magazine Campaign believes that charities

‘have to make a small amount of money go a long way in a cluttered media environment. They have to make sure that in the one or two times that people see the ad, it registers. Hence you need to create a shocking or stand-out image.’

Concerning social adverting, I found an advert that, in my opinion, makes you feel sad and encourages to think broadly about smoking, but doesn not offend you. What do you think about it? Here it is:

Although adverts for charity campaigns may have ‘an excuse’ for their actions, some commercial advertisements are not less abusive.

In this sphere most of the debates concentrate on the question of sex and nudity. However, the ASA survey shows that attitudes are changing. One of the explanations of this tolerance towards ‘sexy’ ads is that nowadays sexual materials are accessible in the internet. In general, participants agree that nudity is acceptable in case it is used wisely. The example of  ‘unacceptable’ advertising is Antonio Federici campaign that performed scenes involving priests and nuns that contained both sex and religious context.

Two priests embracing
Fedirici’s advert

There is no doubt that such adverts are very memorable. But haven’t they gone too far? What is your view on that problem?

To be continued… Next time I am going to concentrate on the idealization of the female beauty in advertising and its consequences.

=) And the funny advert to end:


2 responses

  1. There are dozens more at:
    But, in my opinion as long as it grabs the attention of the target audience and does not scare away the remainder of the potential clientele, it is OK. Obviously, there is a limit to which one can go (basic standards of decency) but in the current market paradigm it is oftentimes extremely important to get through to the consumer who is inundated by thousands of advertising messages a day and switches-off unless there is something truly catchy in front of him or her… After all who says it is immoral to exploit animal instincts (fear, grid, lust, etc.)? Provided the ad message is in line with the limits imposed by the regulator, it is perfectly legitimate… Big question is, however, if the disgusting image or a case of very bad taste scares away a fraction of your potential customers… today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow… With religiously offensive ads and sexist messages you may as well alienate a good deal of immediate and future clientele…

  2. Interesting blog. It does raise the question how far is too far? Advertisers today seem to be getting away with a lot there are a lot of ethical questions that should be asked to some advertisers. I know for example the United Colours of Benetton once did an ad campaign that was just pictures of starving children with their logo in the corner.

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