By James Keller
Advertising. A world full of intrigue and creativity, the possibility of evoking so many emotions, so many images to push whatever product or cause you’re behind. With the visual pushed to the forefront in print and television, the power to captivate and convince is markedly more dramatic. Unfortunately, the ability to fail, to cross the line separating provocative and effective advertising from poor taste, is also much easier.
This is nowhere more apparent than in the HomeFront Society of Calgary’s newest ad campaign, which failed before it was even off the ground.
The commercials, which are aimed at shocking viewers to educate them on the effects of domestic violence, are graphic in both depiction of physical violence and language. In one, a woman corrects an older man in a board room meeting. He then grabs the woman by her head and slams her head, face-first, into the table, yelling “You stupid bitch! Don’t you ever correct me in front of people again!” In the second, a waitress spills coffee on a male customer while refilling his cup. He then lifts her onto a table and pours hot coffee over her chest, screaming “You fucking bitch!” Both commercials end with the voice-over, “You wouldn’t get away with it here. You shouldn’t get away with it at home.”
While the commercials were designed, according to HomeFront, for playing late at night, the Television Bureau of Canada refused to let the spots air. The TVB claims the ads are too graphic, according to their Telecaster Guidelines. HomeFront is appealing the decision.
Shock advertising is a legitimate tactic, and shouldn’t be written off as an industry practice altogether. However, the graphic violence or strong language found in these commercials, which HomeFront liberally calls a “bold and innovative television public awareness campaign,” should be justified, and that justification should be overwhelmingly apparent. Unfortunately, the shocking nature of HomeFront’s campaign would see the message lost, as the shock may not be justified in the eyes of a viewer.
Sometimes, subtlety is dramatically more shocking and effective than the overt.
There have been many shocking, provocative ads that have done just that. A number of years ago, another ad campaign promoting awareness of domestic violence showed a child, alone and scared in his room, while the sounds of his parents fighting were heard just down the hall. With the viewer forced to imagine the actions accompanying the sounds of hitting and screaming, and seeing how this truly can affect the domestic sphere, a vivid, personal picture was painted–no swearing or assault needed. This was perhaps more effective than a woman’s face meeting a boardroom table.
On another front, Truth.com’s whole gimmick is shocking, in-your-face, “eye-opening” spots, drawing focus to the evils of the tobacco industry. Closer to home, Edmonton resident Barb Tarbox’s personal recollection of her fight with lung cancer was equally if not more effective. Both of these campaigns created an “emotive impact,” as HomeFront calls the point of its ads, while still keeping a measure of good taste. Without this balance, and without tasteful and tactful advertising, the message disappears and the campaign might as well never have happened. Luckily, in this case, it didn’t.
HomeFront is busy playing the victim, blaming the TVB for hindering their efforts and causing them to postpone their entire campaign. In a response to the decision, the organization spills out facts about domestic violence in Calgary, and champions the support given by Calgary Police Services as proof that the ads are not only acceptable, but effective.
“The community,” the release reads, “needs a well-considered wake-up call around the issue of domestic violence.”
Regrettably, HomeFront’s efforts were anything but well-considered.
To view HomeFront’s ads, visit