Horror in Advertising

Something you may not know about me is I’m a big fan of the horror genre, and if you’ve read any of my past articles you’ll know I’m very interested in advertising. So when the two come together it’s like ‘When Worlds Collide’ for me. I don’t think we see it enough so when a brand takes that leap of faith I’m always quite delighted, but delight aside, does it make for effective advertising?

Well clearly I think it does and I’ll explain why, firstly, it’s really quite memorable which is one of the main factors of effective advertising. Sure cinemas and streaming platforms are infested with poorly made horror films but seeing the genre in advertising is much more uncommon, and therefore memorable. This also adds a degree of uniqueness to a campaign which is key for effective advertising as well as branding, allowing you to stand out from the noise which is louder than ever.

Fear can also be a very effective seller, but genuine fear which some PSA style ads rely on can quickly get intense and unpleasant, and depending on what you’re trying to say or sell might not be the best route. I think ads that play into the horror genre always have a certain meta, self- referencial, tone to them which downplays the actual fear but still allows it to be present.

Recently I’ve seen more horror style ads which was what made me decide to write this, primarily VW’s latest campaign for their safety features where they had a very talented movie poster designer, Matt Ryan Tobin, turn common fears of driving into retro horror posters. As well as these posters there is also video content to accompany it which really hits the nail on the head when it comes to balancing horror and advertising.

Another recent example which I loved and can’t get enough of was the new Squarespace ad featuring the Count himself, Dracula. The reason I love this ad as much as I do is because it so wonderfully links this fantastical element with the actual product. There are multiple product shots that feel completely natural and the fact they’ve not just used this character for the sake of using him, but have used the story, and then pushed it a step further is great. I mean Dracula started a sunglasses brand because he can’t go in the sun, and he uses Squarespace to run his website. That’s absolutely brilliant.

One last example from a couple of years ago was Heinz’s Superbowl ad which does not play into just one horror trope but four! Using a four-way split screen we see horror tropes play out but they all have a happy ending because there’s Heinz on the table.

So I can’t simply sing praises for this whole article, so what are some cons? Well it could potentially put off audiences if they don’t like eerie or scary atmospheres, if a child accidentally sees an ad like this it could put them off for a good while. As well as this one could argue if not done well these types of ads could get too far away from the actual product or service and leave the audience confused by the end. These are problems I think this style of ads could face, but I think when the campaign is well thought out and executed they are definitely avoidable.

In conclusion, I obviously really like this trend in advertising, and I seem to be seeing it more frequently recently which is great. I know I’m a little biased but I genuinely think there are a number of benefits to this style and it can create really effective advertising, and I’m happy to see more brands taking the leap to give it a chance. I look forward to hearing what your thoughts are…

Travis Usher

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