Shock Marketing

The American Red Cross parked a truck in the middle of the plaza that separates Market Street from the Embarcadero Wednesday. Each side of the truck carried a 10 foot by 20 foot picture of destruction: San Francisco ripped apart by an earthquake, the emblematic clock tower of the Port of San Francisco fissured and ready to fall. The other side showed the financial district in ruins, with cars flipped over, office buildings on fire and a crack in the asphalt running the length of Market Street.

The advertising campaign slogan: “What do we have to do to get your attention?”

Well, the shock marketing worked on me. Although this reporter’s office building appeared to remain standing in the distance, a Red Cross worker assured me that didn’t mean I was safe, “You just can’t see that far into the picture,” she said. No amount of sunny San Francisco afternoon walking quite got me away me from thinking of my impending doom.

“The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that there is a 62% chance of an earthquake the size of the 1906 hitting the San Francisco Bay Area again in the next 30 years,” postcard versions of the shocking pictures passed out at the scene claim.

My first day of work with the Venture Capital Journal was the 100th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake and since I moved to San Francisco, I’ve survived two 4.5 magnitude quakes. The threat of danger is something we live with every day. Is shock marketing really necessary?

Marketing campaigns like this definitely get people’s attention, but can run the risk of turning people off in a serious way. The Red Cross worker I spoke with said at least one person had complained that the pictures were too graphic and unnecessary. It must be a difficult line to walk. How would New Yorkers feel, for example, if the Red Cross posted pictures of the Chrysler Building in flames with the tail-section of a plane sticking out of its side?

Marketing experts, please weigh in: do you think the Red Cross went too far with these pictures?