Does shock value do any good in promoting a cause?

Up until a month ago, a billboard near my home promoted a charity that does facial reconstruction for poor children overseas. They do so with a twenty foot tall photo of an infant with pronounced cleft lip and palate.

Maybe I’m more sensitive to this kind of thing than others (holes where holes should not be in organic matter - sometimes even inorganic! - is one of my phobias), but I couldn’t help thinking that the people who designed this billboard (and created related magazine ads with NINE such children) probably had the same train of thought as abortion protesters with their large color post-abortion photos.

What do you all think? I’d love to get some saner heads thinking about this.

Marketing Psychology 202

Shock memory triggers what is callef flashbulb memory (FM) which utilizes a completely different part of the brain than long or short term memory. To give you an example I bet everyone who reads this thread will be able to say exactly where they were when they heard about 9/11, or when they found out JFK was assassinated. That cleft-lipped youngster gets a lot of people to donate to that organization.

It tends to change one’s opinion on matters. Which way it changes them is not always appreciated or properly constructed, but it does make an impression. The rest of it depends on design.

A shocking statement is a good way for a speaker to get the audience’s attention, but you have to have substance to back it up.

When I worked for a non-profit children’s organization a few years ago, the national organization put together a series of ads for its affiliates. Unlike earlier campaigns - which had featured uplifting images of healthy, happy children and their parents, these ads featured photos of children suffering abuse, neglect, or living in poverty.

The local affiliates wound up in a huge argument over the ads. Most thought they would turn off potential supporters, while others thought the shock impact would be valuable. In the end, only a handful of local affiliates chose to use them.

My wife, who worked with special needs children for more than 35 years, caustically observes that “you want to show them handicapped, but not TOO handicapped.” Showing an otherwise healthy child in a wheelchair is good, showing a child with severe birth defects slumped over, with random muscle spasms, being carried into the therapy room, is too much.

In short, there’s a fine line between shocking someone enough to get their attention and generate sympathy, and shocking someone so much that they tune you out. And, like with most things, there’s no definite boundary.

Shock value is an extremely effective marketing tool IME. I have donated money to several animal rights groups over the years (Humane Society, SPCA, etc) and now I am on every animal groups’ mailing list, esp the radical ones. I often get mail from groups like PETA that show pictures of animals who have suffered horrible neglect or abuse. It is so disturbing that I can’t even let my kids look at the stuff. And even tho I know they’re just playing on my emotions, I’m such a sucker for animals that I end up donating money, even though I realize they are manipulating me.

So yes, I think shock value can be very effective at promoting a cause…but I agree, too much and you shut down. It’s a fine line.