Shock Advertising In India

Posted on Jan 18 2013 - 5:00am by Fayaz


Shock advertising, the brain child of the Italian clothing company Benetton, whose advertisements carried explicit social and political messages. Critics praised Benetton for its creative initiative but at times it was at the receiving end too. Shock advertisements differ from traditional advertisements in that they create both positive and negative impact. While shock advertisements prevailed in the Western countries during the last decade, we Indians are not much exposed to it. The presence of very few shock advertisements and the need for marketers to find ways to overshadow their competitors, favors the exploitation of shock ads on a larger scale in Indian markets. But the perception of Indians differs completely from that of the Westerners. Hence a need arises to tailor these advertisements to cater to the target audience.


According to a study conducted by the market research firm Yankelovich, the report of which was published in New York Times in January 2007, each day a person living in a city gets exposed to 5000 advertisements. Hence it is necessary for an advertisement to be different from the usual to grasp a person’s attention. Accordingly shock advertisements “jolt you out of your senses and then successfully pin your attention down”. It employs the deliberate use of shock factors like nudity, violation of societal norms, sexual references, disturbing images and provocative political messages to attract the audience to a particular brand or to bring awareness about a social cause or a health issue.

Few of the famous ads of Benetton, the pioneer in shock advertising include “The Benetton baby ad”, UNHATE campaign and An AIDS patient on his death bed. While hailed for taking up a stand against untouched social causes and dreadful diseases, it also received the wrath of political and religious leaders for the ads which featured pictures of theses leaders. Shock Advertisement in addition to sales of the product, incite public debate and dialogue on a range of issues and foster positive notions of identity and citizenship. An example of which is the Benetton’s advertisement which depicted a black women breastfeeding a white baby. The advertisement was devoid of any tag lines but the picture was sufficient to depict the stand against racism. On the other hand one of Benetton’s advertisements carried a bloodied new born baby attached to its umbilical cord and covered in mucous. This advertisement caused more than 800 complaints to be reported to the British Advertising Standards Authority during 1991 and it featured in the reference book Guinness World Records 2000 as ‘Most Controversial Ad Campaign‘.

SUPERETTE is a New Zealand based clothing company, the tag line of which is “Be caught dead in it”. The posters of the company go with the tag line, which shows a young girl caught dead on a fence wearing the stylish clothes of the brand. Though the ad reflected the tag line, it shocked the customers by the way it was portrayed.

Few other players in the field apart from Benetton include reputed companies like FCUK, Calvin Klein jeans, Diesel and organizations like PETA. Shock ads are mostly employed by NGO’s to explicitly convey social messages.


What if you happen to see a young man lose his life in a dreadful accident in front of your eyes while you are speeding in your bike to work? The scene of the accident will daunt you the whole day or possibly for the next couple of days. In fact next time when riding your bike you will hesitate to cross the speed limits. This is because of the impact that the accident has created in you. A similar scenario was used by the Bangalore Traffic Police in its ad campaign “Don’t talk while he drives”.

The ads showed disturbing images with blood splashing through the phone. These advertisements were different from the normal in that they were from the perspective of the person who is speaking on phone with the one who is driving. Thus these advertisements grabbed the attention of the public not just by display of shock factors but also by showing things in a whole new perspective.

Another example of use of shock advertisement in India in the recent times is by CEAT Tyres. The advertisement was not just intended to promote the quality of the tyres but also campaigned against rash driving, a violation of societal norms.

Shock advertisements without a concrete theme or purpose can end up in soup. In 1995, Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre an ex-Miss India and model, posed nude wearing only shoes and a python wrapped around them in a print advertisement for Tuff Shoes. Consequently the two models, photographers, distributors and publishers of the ad were registered under a case by the Mumbai police.

Clearly the Tuff shoes advertisement was a fantasy whereas the shock advertisement by the Bangalore Traffic police was a reality.


Every company tries to stand out from the crowd given the amount of competition in today’s business environment. Be it good or bad, positive or negative every company strives hard to be noticed and to make headlines. They don’t want their company’s name to be forgotten in a hurry. The key is to create a buzz among people and shock advertisements are here for that. They make people to be more aware of a brand and the advertisements leverage the customer’s ability to retain the brand in their memory for an extended period. Till date we Indians have only been used to the traditional advertisements which depict the glamorous, pleasurable, and fantastic images of people, situations and places, and promise happiness, beauty, fun and the like as a result of product use. It requires a great deal of innovation and distinction from the fellow players in the market to reach out to the customers. Thus by using shock advertising strategies they can not only promote their products, but also can pass strong social message to the common men. This makes its customers to better relate to the product and it results in increased recall capacity of the product. The more realistic an advertisement is, the easier it becomes to relate to it.

Given that the cultural and religious sensitivities of Indians differ from rest of the world, it is very crucial that the shock advertisements should be modified to suit the Indian community. For instance an advertisement for creating awareness about safe sex practices will not create much stir among a westerner. Whereas in most Indian families such advertisements are still considered to posses sexual content and the entire message is lost. But today because of wide spread education and global exposure the perception of people has changed. Also thanks to the violence and obscenity being celebrated by the Indian film industry. A good example is the new Reebok (Reetone) advertisement that has been accepted by the Indians and there has not been any complaint or protest till date. Even then when dealing with Indian markets it’s essential to ensure that these advertisements don’t hurt the sensitivities of Indians as they are deeply rooted.

Thus cleverly executed shock advertisements, used once in a while can increase the sales of the company. But when used often, the customers get used to the element of shock and they will fail to create an impact. This further gives rise to the need to maintain a perfect blend of traditional advertisements and shock advertisements to keep the customers interested.


Shock advertisements are like Double-edged sword and companies must be wary about its use. When used appropriately they give an edge over the competitors and when mishandled leads to the loss of brand image. Given the amount of opportunity for shock advertisements in Indian markets the future looks brighter. Companies must focus on promoting realistic advertisements rather than promote ads that are intended just for public stunt. With shock advertisements customized to meet the needs of the target customers, the word of mouth that the ads create can be of immense use to increase the sales of the product and also to enable companies to impart social awareness to the masses.

The article is authored by Sai Gautham & Maria Stephen from DMS Pondicherry University.

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About the Author

Fayaz is the founder of Marketing Bloggers. Apart from the jibber-jabber he is Human by birth, Engineer by mistake, Marketer by Choice.. That says it all :)

2 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. arvind kumar January 20, 2013 at 5:02 pm -

    really shocked after reading this shock advertising article… In my opinion gov. should use this kind of advertising strategy more and more (same as that blood coming out from mobiles) in order to aware people of their faults and to grab their attention.

  2. Saumil February 15, 2013 at 9:57 pm -

    No no for such Ads in India

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