A step too far? Just because it’s Halloween doesn’t mean ads can play on our fears

Whichever way you look at it, all is not well in the United Kingdom right now. In fact, the status quo is more hunker down than hunky dory.
Omnipresent worries about Brexit, high street sales crashing faster than any point since the deep recession year of 2009, a largely overlooked admission earlier this month by the Office of Budget Responsibility regarding its over-calculation of Britain’s productivity throughout the seven year history of the department. Overall, we live in the worst performing advanced economy in the world. And the doomsday points could go on.
Of course there’s always a different perspective. They tell us unemployment is steady at 4%- its lowest since the 1970s; someone else points out that zero hours contracts and volunteering as part of a back-to-work plan shouldn’t count as steady work. Interest rates try to buoy a property market which is approaching stagnation regardless, savers across the country curse the day the Bank of England decided on 0.5%.
[Tweet “@RickGuttridge of @SmokingGunPR looks at #advertising that plays on fears- art imitating life or poor taste? “]
People are feeling uneasy and fears are widespread when it comes to everything economic, especially personal finances. And who can blame us, with 3% inflation sending grocery baskets skyrocketing in costs, and careers no longer feeling secure despite the fact we will have to work longer than any 20th Century generation, providing our jobs aren’t taken by robots in the next 20 years- a bridge we should probably cross at a later date given how much is already on the plate.
With this current atmosphere, I find it not just striking but downright distasteful that some corners of the advertising industry are opting to play on many of these fears to try and drive sales. By telling the public they will probably never be able to retire, and their efforts to do so only line the pockets of the elite, you might as well send out personal memos containing the date and location of every individual’s death.
‘That would be so inappropriate’, you say. I say take a look at the following examples of the kind of ads I’m talking about, then let me know if you feel these are more suitable. A new form of panic buying campaign has been born- the ‘sod it, might as well, we’re screwed anyway’ school is here, and offers an ugly reflection on the state of play.

  In many ways, though, this is PG stuff compared to an even darker route other brands are experimenting with. If the only way to ensure we have job security is by making ourselves indispensable, then it stands to reason that working hours are getting longer ‘voluntarily’. He or she who leaves the office first lasts least longest, irrespective of whether they have kids to pick up.


Be more like the colleague who never powers down, always has their iPhone alerts on high volume in the shower, and even sleeps with laptop idle, rather than off. There’s stiff competition out there- just be grateful you’re in a job at all. A rather brutal and unforgiving attitude to take at a time when the future of worker’s rights and conditions are up in an air thick with referendum fallout.
[Tweet “Should #adverts play on economic fears for sales? @RickGuttridge and @SmokingGunPR consider the evidence”]
It might be Halloween today, but that gives nobody the right to scare us into any purchasing decisions. Then again, perhaps I’m looking at this all wrong. The fundamental teaching of any art history is that it offers a window into the period of time in which it was created. If advertising is the eighth art- admittedly a divisive theory- then is its purpose not to create lasting evidence of what the world is like right now. Cynical, downtrodden, pessimistic, down although not yet out- black, blue, bloody nosed, only time will tell if we’re remembered as the society that brushed that off, got back up, and emerged victorious.

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