on shock value, and ambivalence, and contagion

So over the weekend I entered the Cannes Young Lions 48 Hour Ad Contest.

The brief was to create an ad promoting WaterAid’s new sanitation campaign, and upload it to Youtube. The brief then asks entrants to use any means they can to drive as many people to their YouTube video as possible, get them to watch it, and vote.

Here’s what I made:

And here is why.

My entry is disgusting. It’s confronting. On a personal level, it’s humiliating. And to be quite honest, it’s not the most clever ad, either creatively or strategically, I think.

What it is, though (and by this I’m going from the disgusted messages, phonecalls and emails I’ve received from those I’ve passed it on to) is shocking. And shock, as far as I can tell, seems to be a great way to get an idea out there, to make it contagious in such a way that it hurtles into the ether faster than any traditional broadcast medium could carry it.

Take, for example, Ford Sport ka’s decapitated cat viral, with more than 550,00 views thus far on Youtube.

And this recent viral for Greenpeace, attacking Nestle’s environmentally irresponsible use of palm oil.

Seems to me that for an ad to go viral online, it’s got to have some kind of social reward for the viewer passing it on. Cred, of some form. It’s like gossip. And one thing that propels gossip through groups of people is fear and disgust, and horror, and all that weird psychological ambivalence you feel about something that you can’t bear to watch, but are nonetheless compelled to.

I’m very ambivalent about my entry. I don’t know that I like it. I don’t know that it’s that smart. It makes my friends uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable.

And I think that’s why I thought, stuff it, I’ll just enter it.

The whole experience has been a great object lesson in the weird psychology of creativity.

I’m not sure what makes me feel more gross. The fact that I made an ad about eating poo*, or the fact that I’ve put good taste, and dignity, and cred on that ambivalent line.

*(On the question of ‘is it real?’: no, I’m not telling… as far as youtube is concerned, reality is as reality seems.  A bit postmodern, perhaps, but there you go.)

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2 thoughts on “on shock value, and ambivalence, and contagion

  1. It made me a little uncomfortable. But in a first, it stopped me analysing the content of an ad, and made me feel extreme empathy for anyone who has to drink contaminated water.

    But even if it didn’t, I too would be 110% behind everything you do. 🙂

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