The Dark Side of Marketing

Written by

Andrew Millar


July 31, 2012

‘You’ve found your dark side Adelaide’ were the words of encouragement from Adam Ferrier Chairman of Judges at the 2012 AADC Awards.

Our dark side.

Is that what we need to create great marketing? A visit to the shadow lands…

To tell you the truth at the time I didn’t feel really comfortable with the idea that advertising must embrace the evil and malevolent aspect of human personality. Even if it is often veiled in the cloak of a joke… you can say almost anything, if you follow it with ‘Only kidding…’ as in ‘Gee, you’re ugly. Only kidding..’)

My unease with this notion had actually started earlier that day. An article from a trade newsletter invited me to review a television commercial made by Adam’s company, Naked Communication. Aimed at young men, it attempted to get them to register for a free sample of an anti-acne preparation. There was a simple survey to answer… Did I find it a) Very good. b) too gross for people to watch it to the end c) probably effective for the target audience.

I watched it and answered ‘b’… truth is, I did watch it to the end and nearly threw up. The images were all very graphic close-ups of people squeezing pimples in front of their mirrors. And as the spot (no pun intended) progressed, the resulting explosions became more and more graphic.

Quite clearly Naked Communications has embraced the ‘dark side’ and used it very effectively.

But you see there is a little ‘wild card’ justification they can throw in here. They didn’t set out to stage those eruptions. They were real. The images had been trawled from citizen posts on YouTube. In other words, advertising can justify itself by saying it is only reflecting back what people are already saying or doing.

But does the fact that the images were real make it OK or even worse?

My fear, sitting in the dark at an Industry Awards Ceremony was that this is just another little bit of water over the dam wall. Not that this commercial is that bad, but it does challenge others to try to push the limits.

YouTube hosts images of actual fatal car crashes and pedestrian fatalities. There are graphic images of people being shot. There are bomb explosions ripping through crowds. There are gang knife fights and stabbings. There is bullying and ‘king hitting’. There are images of the graphic results of murders. And there is imagery of people having sex. I mean actual sex, not implied. Are we going to use these in the same way as Naked did? Just because people have posted them and they are watched, should we use them for marketing?

Creatives are encouraged to push boundaries and award ceremonies reward the frontiersmen and women. But exploring the dark side can make you blind to the difference between clever and just plain shocking for shocking’s sake.