"Guilt" Advertising

Barking Up The Wrong Tree

By Staff Writer
In February 17, 2011

Sometimes there isn’t a huge difference between a really good ad and a really bad one. As advertisers, we walk a tightrope when we set out to make our audience feel something real. And it gets quite wobbly out there when that “something” is “guilt.”

Truth be told, I believe the “guilt” approach should be avoided at all costs. People don’t like being guilted into anything, let alone a purchase decision. Despite all of this, guilt is a prevalent tool used in modern-day advertising – especially by the non-profit sector. Does it work? For some, yes. But it also can have some ugly side effects.

Take the SPCA. First of all, the thing is 2 minutes long. Like 120 seconds. Like 30 seconds longer than I’m usually willing to wait on frozen entrees. Add Sarah McLachlan, a one-eyed cat, a dog struggling to make it to its feet and the super: “For some, help came too late” and you’ve got yourself a guilt soufflé that would make Gandhi want to take a really long shower. My procrastination cost a cat its eye. ITS EYE!!

They’ve got me right where they want me, right? Not exactly. Because I, like many people, get a bit defensive when someone shows me a three-legged animal and hints that “this could’ve been avoided if SOMEONE didn’t spend all their money on Starbucks.” It feels heavy-handed and manipulative. And that, my friend, will get your ad spoofed.

Now take this thirty-second spot with almost exactly the same goal. Sure, it’s sponsored by a consumer brand and intended to sell product. But they are trying to sell that product by getting you to care about the wellbeing of shelter dogs.

Did I buy the product? No. I don’t eat dog food and currently don’t have a canine companion. But it did compel me to immediately donate to the Pedigree Foundation (serves me right for memorizing my credit card number). And beyond that, it furthered my conviction that a shelter dog is the way to go when I can have a furry friend in my life.

Two very different approaches with a very similar goal. While I’m sure the heart-wrenching SPCA efforts have proved effective with some, I prefer advertising that can make me feel a whole heck of a lot without making me feel terrible. In this example, a positive ad led me to take a positive action. And that feels really good.

Staff Writer

So who is this mysterious staff writer? Could be anyone really, as long as they meet our very strict criteria. 1) Worked with us in one capacity or another. 2) Have something pretty interesting to say. 3) Want to use our blog to say it. See? Told ya they were strict!