This controversial advert for Sony’s portable Playstation in white was shown on billboards in the Netherlands in 2006. It appears that Playstation like to use shocking advertising - as illustrated by this ad six years before:
However, this time it seems they have gone too far:
The advert for the white Playstation shows a white woman, dressed provocatively, grasping the face of a black woman in a threatening manner. Whether Sony meant to be shocking in their approach to advertising or not, the advert was perceived by many (quite justifiably) to be portraying the domination of one race over another.
The literature on ‘shocking’ advertising suggests that it may be a useful technique for attracting the attention of the consumer. Dahl, Frankenberger & Manchanda (2003) conducted a study in which student participants unknowingly judged the effectiveness of information, fear and shock-based advertisements. To do this, the participants were asked to answer a questionnaire (that they believed to be the true experiment) in a ‘student clubroom’ where poster ads were placed on the walls (1 representing information, fear, or shock-based ads, and controls). The experimenter ‘forgot’ part of the questionnaire and left the room, giving the participant 1.5 minutes to look around. After, participants who had no idea of the true nature of the experiment were selected to say which ads had attracted their attention the most. More people attended to the shock advertisement, over controls, than in the fear and information conditions (84.4%, 40.6% and 46.9% respectively). Interestingly, a significant proportion of participants noted that the shock ad contained a norm-violation – suggesting that it is the violation of norms that leads to the increase of attention to shocking ads.
However, the context of this study (public health) is very different to the context of the Playstation ad, and judging by how the advert was generally received, Playstation may have attracted the wrong sort of attention. In addition, the Dahl, Frankenberger & Manchanda (2003) study uses shock tactics appropriate to the intended message of the ad (a naked embrace for a sexual health message). The shock techniques used by Playstation however, are very far removed from the intended message of the ad. Gustafson & Yssel (1994) show that the relationship between the message topic and shock tactic used is very important to whether the advertisement is successful or not.
Perhaps Sony could do with some advertising advice next time....
Dahl, D.W., Frankenberger, K.D. & Manchanda, R.V. (2003). Does it pay to shock? Reactions to shocking and nonshocking advertising content among university students. Journal of Advertising Research, 43(3), 268-280.
Gustafson, B. & Yssel, J. (1994). Are advertisers practicing safe sex? Marketing News, March 14, 1994.