The Simpsons TV show turns 22 years old this year, a fact that startled and kind of alarmed me when I heard it yesterday. Hey, I’ve got co-workers who aren’t as old as that. For myself, however, the Simpsons is really only about 18 years old based on the fact that when the show originally aired, I wasn’t allowed to watch it at my parents’ home. The adult humor disguised as a kid’s cartoon was (at the time) considered a little shocking and my father, though liberal in all other respects, wasn’t quite comfortable with his teenage daughter watching a steady stream of comic beer jokes on TV.
Shock factor is a legitimate tool in marketing, one which has been well exploited by the likes of Howard Stern, CNN, and tabloid media for years. Shock grabs people’s attention and forces them to listen/watch (often with jaws dropped) to the messaging that follows.
One of the best applications I’ve seen recently of shock advertising is the Trillium Gift of Live Network here in Ontario, which directs attention to their website at RecycleMe.org. If you’ve never been there, go now and prepare to be both amused and pretty grossed out, all for a great cause. Seizing on the concept of recycling, they’re striving to encourage people to consider “recycling” their organs for donation after death, by explicitly and graphically showing what every body part can be used for to save another life. It has a “charitable zombies” quality that is funny and poignant at the same time.
Without going overboard (or only going overboard with a clear understanding of the consequences!) consider how you can “shock” your consumers into listening to your message.