When Marketers Go Gross

Growing up in Canada, I watched a show called, “You Can’t Do That On Television.” The program launched Alanis Morissette’s career, and also introduced the world to the green slime now inherently associated with the Nickelodeon network (which later ran the show in reruns).

That slime was just one of many gross-out tactics used to entertain the show’s viewers, including a filthy hamburger diner cook who served up mystery meat. It was the grossest show I’ve ever seen.

It was also hugely popular. Why? Children of a certain age are amused to no end by gross humor.

Remember those Chef Boyardee TV spots with the image of a kid’s face smeared with red sauce, looking like a lion post-feast? Kids respond to this kind of advertising. Or at least that’s surely what these marketers’ focus groups revealed.

If you expect to be spared from this type of creative online, you’re in for disappointment. For some marketers, the grosser the better as brands angle for consumer recall, work to differentiate themselves from their competition, and attempt to play up their product benefits.

When Goo is Good

The latest ad campaign from Cadbury Creme Eggs launches just as the chocolate maker readies itself for the busy Easter season. Those familiar with the product know it’s filled with a liquid concoction that resembles a raw egg white and yolk. The only word that can be used to describe it is “gooey,” and that’s what the brand has embraced in its new promotional microsite.

With the tagline “Release the Goo,” the brand’s Canadian Web site lets users try their hand at splattering the eggs through rich media games, as well as view a series of TV spots in which the eggs meet their demise in a number of messy ways. Offline, a giant egg is teetering below the blades of a fan on a billboard in Toronto that, in response to weather conditions, will ultimately cause the egg to “release its goo.”

Creme eggs aren’t the only brand for which showcasing goo actually enhances the product benefits. Wrigley’s Orbit Gum has built its brand on the concept of the being splattered with dirt and grime. Its “dirty mouth” series features such ads as a TV spot of foul-mouthed model Janice Dickinson being spritzed with water derived from a hot tub full of sweaty men. Expect to see more in this vein from Orbit, both online and off.

Oh, the Horror

The horror genre remains popular online among demographics like teen boys and men ages 18 to 34.

Witness the campaign that ran on Break.com earlier this week. Known for its over-the-top home page takeover ads and roadblocks, the site reskinned its home page for Sega’s MadWorld Wii game. With a slogan like “Blood Soaked Action for the Wii” you wouldn’t expect flowers and butterflies from this advertiser.

Still, clicking to cut the home page in half with a chainsaw while spattering blood across the screen can be a slightly disturbing experience.

Last year’s DVD release of the film “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” also saw the launch of online ads that reflected its horror genre. Expanding Eyeblaster banners allowed users to roll over for a “shave” and watch as Todd murdered his patron, again with blood splattering across the screen.

While many people find these types of ads offensive, many others find them funny and memorable. The risk that’s involved in running gross campaigns must be weighed against the strength of the advertiser’s media buy.

The MadWorld chainsaw takeover ad on Break.com could have been disastrous elsewhere, even on another site that caters to the same demographic, such as Hulu or ESPN. Cadbury’s Creme Egg microsite, meanwhile, isn’t best promoted on a parenting site; though these consumers will undoubtedly purchase the product for their children, the gross-out factor could be a major deterrent.

If going gross is really in the best interest of your client’s brand, consider the environment and how site users have responded to similar placements in the past. There may be shock value to your creative, but you’re apt to shock consumers who aren’t accustomed to something so graphic if your buyers don’t get it right.

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