How Unexpected and Shocking Imagery is Used In Viral Advertising

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by Michael Gray on November 25, 2008 in Viral Marketing

One of the core concepts of viral advertising is to make it as shocking or unexpected as possible, the idea is to push viewers outside of their mental comfort zone. The following advertisement is a perfect example, since you aren’t sure what it’s about or what the outcome is going to be until the very end :

Using unexpected visual imagery has also been used when trying to reach teenagers about difficult subjects, like substance abuse. This is a public service ad that originally ran in the late 1980’s

As time passes what’s considered unexpected and shocking can also change, here’s a follow up to the original “this is your brain on drugs” PSA advertisement.

Anti-smoking ads from have also taken a visually shocking path. One of there initial ads featured body bags representing the number of smokers who died each day left outside of a tobacco conglomerate headquarters . The ads were so controversial that under pressure from Phillip Morris CBS refused to show them. followed up with musical song and dance spot about truth in advertising about cigarettes. Despite the comical setup the ad was effective, and won several awards.

Unexpected visuals aren’t limited to drugs and tobacco, playing off of the popular TV show Pimp My Ride, Volkswagen released a series commercials known as Un-Pimp My Ride, featuring a German engineering duo destroying heavily customized cars and replacing them with stock VW’s

As we moved into an era of internet user generated content, shocking videos were no longer the exclusive domain of advertising agencies with big budgets. The site gained fame by smashing electronic devices, gadgets, and computer equipment like playstations and nintendo game systems.

Taking user generated content to the next level, some creative website publishers use the promise of shocking videos to get donations. Here’s video from a person who promised to blow up his existing apple G4 computer if he got enough donations to pay for a new Apple G5.

Using unexpected outcomes to drive sales is the goal of every marketer. In recent years Blendtec used the Will it Blend series of videos to become a part of internet history. They’ve blended everything from golf balls to Glow Sticks, but the most popular videos are the ones involving technology. To date almost 6 million people have watched an iPhone get shredded.

Here are some tips if you are trying to use shocking imagery to help make your videos more viral

  • Use a common or familiar setting to start, this allows your audience to psychologically ground themselves
  • Use a narrow focus or field of view, for the first or most dramatic visual change, it removes distractions and allows you to control people’s attention
  • Use music or sound to accentuate the shocking moment, stimulating multiple senses simultaneously will help create a more intense and lasting memory
  • Shorter is always better than longer, if you are going to go long make sure the audience knows there will be a pay-off with a teaser preview

About the Author

Michael Gray

Michael Gray, known widely in the online marketing community as Graywolf, is New York based SEO Consultant and the president of Atlas Web Service. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook or at any of the Pubcon Masters Training Programs. Read more posts from .


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