The Price of Provocativeness (AdTalk: S1 E2)

What does it mean to be provocative? Is it a state of mind, a quantifiable objective, the active attempts by my 6th grade lab partners to guarantee that not a single teacher would escape getting lit on fire in some way, shape or form? Maybe. But when it comes to advertising, I think that “provocative” content is much more than a creative buzzword. I think it plays into the very core of marketing itself, and it’s when we lean into its more nuanced meaning, we can find some incredible creative ideas. It’s also where we can run into the biggest trouble.

This week’s episode of AdTalk was an underwhelming adventure. If you consider a maniacal baby head crying at a PS3 then yeah it was your run of the mill dive into 21st century advertising. The highlight from this week was hands down the nightmare extravaganza that was the PS3 Baby Ad. I had a lot of fun putting this episode together and I just wanted to share a few more thoughts.

Now I know that I’m a little late to the party, but what this example illustrates are core concepts that I think all of us as writers and marketers can take to heart.

Peter Dille, who was head of the marketing campaign that ran the Baby Ad centralized his stance on his choice of content by claiming that PlayStation was making the attempt at “being provocative for provocativeness’s sake”. (That was a mouthful I know). Creating visually striking images of white walls contrasted with the stark blackness of the PS3 and the innocence and mystery of a small baby doll in the middle of the room, the ad definitely has my attention. Factor in some hideous laughter, suspenseful ambience music and a pseudo-Russian montage of a PS3 and a baby experiencing emotional whiplash and you’ve got yourself the beginning of a million dollar ad campaign. (In that it costs a million dollars)

 But, you might be thinking, once he’s got my attention, what does he do with it?
Does he invite me to think differently about the product? What is it that he wants me to think instead? Is there something that he wants me to do? Is there something that he wants me to feel?

Provoke: stimulate or give rise to (a reaction or emotion, typically a strong or unwelcome one) in someone. (According to Webster anyway)

The problem with the baby ad is not that its not provocative. It is. Definitely provocative. The problem is that the ad is not inciting me to take action on the feelings that it gives rise to. Nor is it able to assist me in identifying the emotions that I am feeling as my brain does its best to process the onslaught of traumatic artistic information. And my brain can’t tell me to buy a PS3 at the same time as its trying to work out what in the sweet name of Heaven is going on in front of me.

My gut feeling is that the discussion kind of ended when an artist got louder than the marketing shot caller. While there might have been definable objectives as well as what emotional tone and response that the ad was trying to elicit, it seems that those ideas were pushed to the side in the name of being provocative.

And I find that wildly irresponsible when it comes to a relationship between a creative and a business owner. While it is important to pursue emotionally driven quality content, at the same time we cannot lose sight of a definable set of emotional responses that we are trying to elicit from the people who want to hear what we have to say.

You can check out the entire episode down below. And if you have any thoughts or ideas I’d love to keep this discussion going. You all are great, and I’ll see you next week.


Bryce HockemaComment