A recent outdoor ad on the San Francisco Muni bus line, purchased by Viacom Outdoor for the movie "House of Wax" has this disturbing image.
What’s the big deal? After all, horror films are hardly a new thing. Movie advertising is common on buses. Studios need to market their products to recap their investment. Muni needs advertising revenue to keep fares low.
All true. And trust me, as a marketing professional, I understand firsthand the need to drive demand.
But not at childrens’ expense. There need to be boundaries for outdoor advertising.
Children should not be forced to watch corpses multiple times a day. They should not be exposed to images that are at worse, terrifying, and at best, desensitizing.
Isn’t childhood supposed to be a time of innocence, where children can grow free from the problems of the adult world?
An Open Letter to Viacom
Viacom ad placement managers, I hear see you say: "kids are savvy, they know it’s not real". For teens and tweens, this might be true, but for young children? I don’t think so. Why? Your own website describes your ads as having a major impact on our visual landscape:
Viacom’s powerful presence is there the moment a consumer walks out the
front door or rolls out of the driveway. North America is our audience
and we deliver millions of impressions, one at a time.
Viacom, help me understand: what gives you the right to right to thrust pictures of dead people onto children?
There are other, less graphic advertising concepts that are appropriate for outdoor advertising that can be seen by children. Look at the ads for Secret Window:
This doesn’t scare a child. It’s fine for outdoor advertising. Other parts of the marketing mix, such as movie previews — not shown in media frequented by children — conveyed enough creepiness to entice horror movie fans into theaters. The outdoor ads simply reminded viewers of the creepiness of the preview.
Secret Window has done fine at the box office. I suspect there are better examples of movies that have generated more revenue. I’m not an expert in the movie industry. But you get my point: studios and ad agencies can make money without terrorizing kids. It just takes a bit of foresight, creativity, and the desire to do the right thing.
Viacom, think in terms of the movie industry as a whole. Your clients — the movie studios — are fighting a battle to persuade people to not pirate movies. The outcome could have major negative implications on the studios. Parents could be an important ally in this battle. They’re in the business of getting kids to do the right thing.
Ask yourself: is showing corpses to children the best way to enlist parents as an ally? Do you want to erode your reputation with parents so that they are ambivalent to the effects of piracy on the movie studios? Do you want the studios’ advertising budgets to get slashed? If you think about movie advertising in this way, you’ll see that childrens’ interests and yours are aligned.