Boston ad agency Hill Holiday has a blog and today, while I was poking around the website of Boston agencies to see if I really would try to convince The Pretty AE to move up to Boston and, conveniently, follow her thre, I happened up on it.
Their latest post concerns the use of swear words in newsprint and on TV. They even quote a Harvard professor who says, “swear words have emotional power not simply because they refer to offensive things. Brain scans suggest that the sense of profanity comes from the way vulgar language taps a part of the brain that links memories to emotions, investing expletives with a sense of dread.”
While I can certainly understand that profanity would have stopping power on a deeper level than just the word itself, part of its stopping power, I would suppose, is the social taboo around using it freely. Use it too much and that power disappears.
Use profanity in newsprint or even in advertising and it no longer shocks. As has happened with modern art, the boundaries are pushed farther and farther with no additional aesthetic value. The only value is to shock and disturb.
That is not what art is about.
Nor is it was news and advertising is about.
Great ads shock you insofar as they grab your attention and don’t let go. They are breakthrough. They are also usually, because they are great ads, effective at driving action as well as being memorably. Ads that shock simply to shock may achieve their goal, but without any lasting impression. And don’t even get me started on the long-term damage to the brand.
Shock advertising (and news and TV) is the last resort of a desperate brand (or media) to stay relevant.