Arts & Culture

Today in Terrifying Ad Campaigns

Introducing the newest trend in social justice: the terrifying ad campaign. Social justice organizations are out to get your attention, and they’re willing to scare the crap out of you in the process. Let’s take the new series of ads … Read More

By / April 8, 2008

Introducing the newest trend in social justice: the terrifying ad campaign. Social justice organizations are out to get your attention, and they’re willing to scare the crap out of you in the process.

Let’s take the new series of ads being run by the American Jewish Committee for example. Imagine you are sitting down to a nice, relaxing dinner at home. You’re in the mood for some good classical music, so you switch on WQXR, the most notoriously non-offensive public radio station in New York. After a lovely set of tunes, it’s time for a word from the sponsors. You hear, “Imagine you had 15 seconds to find shelter from an incoming missile. Fifteen seconds to locate your children, help an elderly relative, assist a disabled person to find shelter…” Whoa!

You’re about to duck and cover under your kitchen table in fear when you catch the rest of the ad: “That's all the residents of Sderot and neighboring Israeli towns have. Day or night, the sirens go on. Fifteen seconds later, the missiles, fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza, hit . . . Their aim is to kill and wound and demoralize . . . This is what Israelis experience daily.”

How scary is this ad? Scary enough for WQXR to pull it. The station’s general manager Tom Bartunek has explained this decision, saying the ad was “outside our bounds of acceptability. First, the opening line . . . does not make clear that the potential target of the missile is not our listening area, and as a consequence, runs the risk of raising anxiety in a misleading way.”

Unfortunately, AJC spokesman Michael Geller does not feel the same way. He says, "It's unbelievable. At the end of the day, WQXR listeners are interested in Israel.” The AJC has terminated its contract with the station, maintaining the statement, “It's a shame, but we can't allow ourselves to be edited on a whim." At least from now on WQXR listeners will be able to sleep easy.

The terrifying ad campaign is not limited to conservative classical music channels. Let’s take this scenario over to MTV. Imagine you’re catching up with your favorite “characters” on the Hills when the broadcast is interrupted by one of these ads. They start out with ordinary people in an ordinary situation — watching TV or riding the subway. But things quickly start to go awry: The people get rounded up by scary men with guns and flashlights until everyone on screen is rearranged into a snapshot from a Nazi concentration camp and the words “The Holocaust happened to people like us” appears in bold on the screen.

Now, unlike WQXR, MTV would have no trouble running an ad for condoms or hemorrhoid cream. Even so, these ads are a bit much.

The most upsetting part? They never even say what they are for. You wouldn’t know it by watching, but these commercials are MTV’s way of getting introducing its youngster demographic with the discrimination and genocide going on in Darfur. Unfortunately, this connection is only made by going to the prescribed website…and then searching around a little bit. Instead, the viewer is left shaking in her little Ugg boots thinking that the modern day Gestapo is about to bust through her living room door.