In the age of the Internet, everyone’s looking for the next thing that goes viral. And if you use shock value in your marketing materials, you’re bound to turn a few heads.
But at what price?
Shocking your readers or customers isn’t a foolproof way to build a solid brand reputation—or a reliable marketing strategy. Here’s why:
Shock Value Can Seriously Backfire.
Shocking content can work, provided it meets certain criteria and is presented in the right way. In fact, many nonprofits use shocking images to convey the urgency of their cause.
If misused, though, shock value in marketing content can backfire and turn readers away completely.
As Richard Branson of Virgin Mobile USA discovered, shock value born of sexism and making light of domestic violence almost always backfires. This Christmas ad was pulled minutes after it was uploaded to Virgin Mobile’s site:
Shock Value Drowns Out Your Message.
As the Lung Cancer Alliance has shown the world, shock value outright overshadows your message. Oftentimes we won’t remember what we were supposed to take away from the shocking message.
Take a look at the Lung Cancer Alliance’s “No One Deserves to Die” campaign.
The point of the Lung Cancer Alliance’s message is that many people believe that if you have lung cancer, you did something to deserve it.
However, most viewers or readers will not muddle through all those layers of shock value and misdirection to get to this message, nor will they remember the actual message later. They will likely just remember these random groups of people deserve to die for some reason.
It’s hard enough to persuade readers to agree with your message and then act on it. But when you add in confusing shock tactics that hide your message, you’re making your task even harder.
Remember Authenticity Always Hits the Mark.
Shock value is the marketing equivalent of a one-hit wonder. Use it once—and tastefully—and sure, plenty of people may well like the tune. But rely on it consistently, and your target audience, no matter how niche, is bound to get bored.
The best businesses thrive by creating an original brand personality that readers and viewers can connect with on an emotional level. That’s something prospects can return to again and again.
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