Two Sides of Advertising: Very Good & Very Bad


A common question from my business students is “Why are some ads so bad?”

It does seem odd. Why would marketing managers (Budget? What budget?) spent millions for what seems to be a bad impression. Or simply to shock.

At times marketers will deliberately make an awful advertisement to make it memorable. So that a consumer walking down a grocery store aisle will remember a product. But sometimes marketers have gone too far.

So Your Business Blogger(R) has assembled two sets of ads: Good and Bad.

Let’s start with the good. The motto in my business is Delectare et Docere, To Please and To Instruct.

The first set of advertisements — or edu-tainment — is To Please and To Remind. The Georgia-Pacific paper company did a series of Brawny Man ads a few years ago, still alive on YouTube. A bit longer at some 120 seconds on the web which is a destination that viewers tune in and view with a purpose, which is to please. Even a novice will notice that the target market is women. Alert Readers will notice the early ‘product placement’ in the ad.

There’s lot’s more Brawny Man — but let us begin our descent from good to bad.

Some marketing gurus have crossed over to the dark side with dark ads. Ancient Jewish tradition commands the faithful to imagine no evil. “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” And “Guard your heart, it is the wellspring of life.”

It is a sound life strategy to permit only good inside your circle of friends, your house, your head. Imagine world peace, as the new-agers would say.

But some ad messages put darkness on display.

Charmaine recently appeared on Fox to debate shock advertising. (Your Business Blogger(R) married way over his head…)



Charmaine on an earlier FOX appearance Charmaine Yoest, Ph.D., appeared on Fox News on March 1, 2008 to debate the issue of edgy ads and to discuss the prevalence of shock-style advertising in the media.

Charmaine debated Gary Mueller from Serve Marketing who produced some of the shock ads.

FOX, fair and balanced is a family network and showed only those mildest of ads — Steve McQueen’s Bullet had more violent car chase scenes. Or The French Connection. The examples are not too bad.

But bad is coming at the end of this post.

Workplace safety

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Thank you (foot)notes:

Has some advertising crossed the line? Shock ads linked below.

Caution: Might be safe for work — but not for kids.

From Newsweek, This Is Your Brain on Scary Ads — Are these graphic PSAs inspiring or offensive? You decide.,

The image is meant to shock: a little girl’s face atop a woman’s body, cleavage spilling over a low-cut cocktail dress. …The ads are disturbing, to put it mildly. But more disturbing, its creators say, is what they’re trying to combat: 71 percent of teen pregnancies in inner-city Milwaukee are the result of statutory rape. … But industry experts say the campaign represents a genre of public-service advertising that’s becoming more lurid than ever.

Shock advertising is an age-old gimmick. But compared with milder fare from years past (“This is your brain on drugs”), today’s imagery is “like a sledgehammer to the face,” says Steve Hall, founder of the industry blog AdRants. For instance: the ad displayed above-an anti-drunk-driving spot for Arrive Alive-featuring a scantily clad girl collapsed in a men’s bathroom. Experts have called it muddled and pointlessly provocative.

Alert Reader Dr. Kalynne Pudner, at Auburn University and teaches Biz Ethics, points us to this analysis by By Jeffrey A. Tucker at Mises, as in Ludwig von,

But why must it be tacky and unbearable to so many of us? Well, let’s be blunt: business is trying to reach the masses. Mises explains:


“Business propaganda must be obtrusive and blatant. It is its aim to attract the attention of slow people, to rouse latent wishes, to entice men to substitute innovation for inert clinging to traditional routine. In order to succeed, advertising must be adjusted to the mentality of the people courted. It must suit their tastes and speak their idiom. Advertising is shrill, noisy, coarse, puffing, because the public does not react to dignified allusions. It is the bad taste of the public that forces the advertisers to display bad taste in their publicity campaigns. The art of advertising has evolved into a branch of applied psychology, a sister discipline of pedagogy. Like all things designed to suit the taste of the masses, advertising is repellent to people of delicate feeling.”

A sister discipline of pedagogy? Yes indeed it is, and it is also art, and those with “delicate feeling” need to learn to appreciate it for what it is. They don’t have to believe a word of it. Decline to drink the potion to make you thin. Refuse the breakfast that will make you concentrate. Eschew the hand cream that will restore moisture. Be as skeptical as you want and, instead, save every penny. Turn off the television if you hate it and sit in your perfect environment and listen to Gregorian chant.

Newsweek continues,

Still, deterrence by disgust can work. In 2006, a series of Volkswagen safety ads drew attention for showing its cars in heart-stopping traffic accidents; within weeks, sales inquiries were up. A more recent ad for Canadian workplace safety features a glowing young chef describing her fiancé, whom she’ll never marry, she says, because she’s about to be in a “terrible accident.” She then slips and scorches her face with a cauldron of boiling water. … “Some small amount of discomfort is worth it if it creates positive change,” says Gary Mueller, founder of Serve, the agency behind the statutory-rape ads. The small discomfort, though, is getting bigger.

Danger: gallery of shock ads on Newsweek.

See: Reality, Marketing and Aristotle. Your Business Blogger and Charmaine were extras background artists in a movie. But The Dude was the star. And gave us a lesson in marketing.

Ludwig von Mises. Mises is pronounced “MEE-zus.” Charmaine told me.

Kalynne Pudner earned her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. Auburn was lucky to get her.

For more on the ads click here.

Please watch the video and let us know what you think or comment below.

Cross Post from Management Training of DC, LLC: click here Advertising: The Good and The Bad


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11 Responses

  1. Pat Patterson says:

    Since I have a DVR on which I watch the majority of my programs I don’t really have much current knowledge of ads. But I do remember the Brawny Man ads and sitting there wondering why would anybody create an ad that would remind some people of Alred Parker the convicted cannibal from the 1870’s.

    However I do have one anecdotal story about advertising in the 80’s and early 90’s. For a variety of reasons I had to go to the Chiat/Day Agency at least once or twice a month to pick up proofs for Nike ads. They also did Absolut, Apple and Nissan. I was never too happy about most of their ads, but I did like the Olympic one featuring I Love LA by Randy Newman and the 1984 Apple ad. Good ads with negligible effect of sales. They also did the horrible Infiniti ads that basically advertised rocks and pussywillows.

    But one of their last ad for Nike consisted of several print ads with various models posing as if getting ready for a Nuremburg Rally, all black and silver and goose steeping(I am not kidding). I complained, the salesmen complained, the retailers complained and finally the Chief Rabbi of Los Angeles complained and the campaign was dropped.

    I asked one of the artists why that ad ever so the light of day and he said the ad was irrelevant as long as Chiat/Day got the credit and the awards and then the future contracts.

    Pat Patterson

  2. Jack Yoest says:

    Pat, your experience and insight are most helpful in the on-going debate on marketing.

    Too many in the ad-busy business, from Chiat/Day to your local radio time-seller, seem to treat advertisement as some sort of third grade art project begging the question, Quo Bono?

    Who benefits from the ad?

    Sergio Zyman in his outstanding book The End of Marketing as we Know It reminds us that the purpose of all marketing is to drive sales. (Alert Readers will remember him as the creative genius behind New Coke….OK so maybe he’s not the best example — But Jay Chiat, Chiat’s founder loves the book, “If you read it and learn its lessons, you’ll become a high voltage, successful marketer…just like Sergio.” Which, I guess, proves your point, Pat.)

    There is a disconnect between driving sales and winning awards and winning future contracts. See “Army Marketing: Army Strong — But Will It Make a Difference?” at

  3. Gerritt Coughlin says:

    As a kid, I would watch many sports channels, and did not have the privilege to use my family DVR. During the intermissions I would watch numerous ads, both good and bad.

    The super bowl supposedly has the “best” ads, so I have the best recollection of those. I have a recollection of these ads, not from all of my friends telling me to watch them, but because they resonated with me the most (good ads).

    I think that an ad can be identified as very good, rather than very bad, because of the slight shock it develops to a viewer. Charmaine Yoest, Ph.D., identified this by explaining how a visceral reaction is good, but a horrifying one is bad.

    An ad that exemplifies this visceral reaction is the Budweiser commercial with the puppy. The puppy runs away, establishing the viewer to feel sad, but the puppy comes back in the end with the help of the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales. Through the emotion and shock of the puppy running away, the viewers establish a connection between puppies and horses with the Budweiser beer, in hope that the viewers will consume the company’s beer.

  4. Julie Costello says:

    It really displays that sometimes an ad can display a product or something early in the video and then the audience will have an idea of what the ad is portraying. I think that when the ad displays the product earlier in the video it is found to be a better ad. When the videos show the product later in the video it is harder for the audience to grasp the idea of what the ad is trying to portray.

  5. Will Glenn says:

    I believe that some ads with shock can reach people and influence them in a great way. Sometimes people need to see the real risks and dangers of the everyday mistakes that they make and the people that it will affect if you do not protect yourself. Especially in the second chance ad, it showed the possibilities of what can happen without showing the gruesome injuries that one could endure and imagine without seeing it on their TV. Exactly like the ad with the women getting severely burned, that was disturbing and I would imagine people would find it that way. A good ad relates to people on an emotional level, whereas, other will make you remember the terrible things and that will negatively associate a product or service. A good ad can relate to people on an emotional level like the last ad we watched. it had no disturbing images or things that will have a negative association. It was a happy family 9n a living room and while the father was about to crash the family represented his seatbelt by holding him to safety. This shows people that your decisions can affect others and that really will resonate with viewers.

  6. Bradley Pierro says:

    This was a very interesting read for me. I thought that some of the ads were extremely effective where as some of the ads were not effective at all to me. The beginning ads about the Brawny Man did not relate to me or keep me engaged at all because the ad was only geared towards women. On the other hand, the seat belt ads all caught my attention because no matter who was driving, where they were going, or who they were with, we all get into cars every day and take the risk of driving. The ads were sad and shocking but really made you think about how important a little action can be even if it is as simple as putting on a seat belt. I tend to believe that if you want to get an important idea out to the public, the way of shocking them or showing them what can be lost is the most effective and relatable way.

  7. Katarina Percopo says:

    I think some ads are very good for a few reasons. One being that a very good ad for me at least should be short and sweet and to the point… a lot of ads out there are either too long or never get to the point and leaves you wondering how any of the ad fits in to the product or service being advertised about. A good ad should also be reaching out to the correct age group… for example an ad should never just target one specific age group an ad should make sure they reach multiple people.

    For what makes an ad bad there are hundreds of reasons why. No targeting the correct age group or not targeting anyone at all. Not having a clear point to make to the customers, putting too much useless information in the ad and having too long of an ad that you lose the customers interest.

  8. Austin Larson says:

    There are always two sides to most things, good or bad. This article talks about both good and bad Ads. I agree with Charmaine in that Ads should not be shocking people and trying to persuade them by fear and other emotion. I think that bad Ads go above what they should be allowed to air and put something so shocking on the screen, that it leaves you speechless. Ads should make you learn something but in a valuable way and not a violent shock. Good Ads allow the viewer to understand the problem but learn through knowledge and not by emotion. For example, an Ad should encourage a person to wear their seat belt because it is the law, not because it could harm someone else. Once the viewer acknowledges the actual problem, they do not need to be scared about hurting themselves or someone on the road. People should already know that they can hurt someone for not wearing their seatbelt and they do not need to see someone getting killed in an Ad. I do not disagree that Shock Ads are effective but I think there is a better choice to how an Advertiser gets the message across. Overall, Ads use different methods of persuasion that are all usually effective but some are more applicable than others.

  9. Lane Adams says:

    In the case of some of these ads, like Brawny, I would consider those bad ads because although they target a specific audience they never get to the point. The only mention of the product is in the product placement and the “mascot” that is feature in the advertisement. Personally, I consider this a bad ad because it’s not engaging, the product is never mentioned, and the point of the ad is not discussed.

    On the other hand, what makes a good advertisement is where there is a shock value. When an advertisement has a shock value to it, it immediately engages the audience and then it allows the advertiser to introduce their product. If the product or campaign is for a specific audience then it’s important that the ad comes from their point of view. If there is a shock value, then the advertiser should make sure that it isn’t overdone because that can make an ad bad as well.

  10. jake marcelino MKT 345 says:

    Like everything in life some things are bad and some are good, the same applies to ads. What makes a good Ad? An Ad that is straight to the point and memorable is considered a good Ad, a good Ad should have the shopper remembering the Ad when they see the product. For example, Tony the tiger is a great Ad, every time I go grocery shopping and see frosted flakes I immediately think of Tony the tiger and all of his commercials. The thought of the commercials please me and now I am more likely to buy the product, Frosted Flakes. A good Ad is so important because it can ultimately be the difference maker on if a customer ends up buying a product.
    Bad Ads are everywhere you look, some ads are just down right boring and don’t capture the audience while others are gloomy and make the customer feel worse about the actual product or idea. An example of a bad Ad is the abused animal commercials. These Ads do not accomplish anything except making the customer feel sad. The Ads don’t tell the customer how much it costs to donate they simply just say “call to talk to a representative”. If a company comes out with a bad Ad for a product this a great chance that, that product does not sell like it should have.

  11. Keely Armitage says:

    Brawny man- I thought it was a hair ad the whole time not a paper towel ad. Ads should be more clear what they are trying to sell.

    Second Chance – made it very clear about their message. Maybe a little too intense it startled me when I watched it however that might get people to listen.

    The Chef – way way too intense and graphic for viewers to be watching. This is a sad ad. I understand ads are made to get the point across and for people to want to buy the product, however this ad was overboard.

    Embrace life – very good ad. Was able to get the point across without being graphic. Was a relatable ad for families and anyone with a loved on, reached the people. Very powerful, showed the power of a seatbelt.

    Very good?
    Ads that make you want to buy the product. Ads that relate to people so they feel as if they should buy the products themselves. Ads that can get their point across, so you know what your buying and why.

    Very Bad?
    Sometimes bad ones are made in order to get people talking. When people see something so bad they will remember it and talk about it. By the word of month people will be talking about your company.
    Ads that you don’t even know what the product is they’re trying to promote. Too graphic ads that just scare off customers instead of wanting them to buy the product.