wsib: shockvertised.

Oh Canada. If we’re looking for something to feel proud of, maybe it’s that Canada produced one of the most buzzed about ad campaigns in the world in 2007. Unfortunately, whether that’s good or bad I’m still not sure.

This year Toronto agency Foote Cone & Belding created the much-talked about “Prevent It” campaign for the WSIB. Another example of shockvertising, the ads supposedly follow in the footsteps of Volkswagen’s brilliant “Safe Happens” campaign by being gruesomely explicit in their depictions of workplace accidents. Like, really way beyond normal made-for-TV overkill gruesome:

In another spot, the injured simply gets up and explains to us why it all went wrong:

(Before we go on, a small sidebar: why oh why must someone yell “there’s been an accident! get some help?” Wouldn’t you really scream or barf or freak out? Just throwing that out there…)

There are more spots, including one where a construction worker (telling us, conveniently, how he’s working overtime to take his family on vacation) gets blown up, thrown off a high rise, lands on a truck, and flops to the ground. At which point, shockingly, someone yells “there’s been an accident! get help!” It’s like they couldn’t find enough ways to kill the guy at one time. I was half expecting someone to cover his corpse in cement or slice his head off, just to make sure we get the picture.

Still I applaud these spots for having some balls. In an advertising world that mostly tip-toes around anything unpleasant (like my big pet peeve – maxi pads lovingly filled with clean blue water) these ads go for it. In a spot that’s promoting awareness about gory workplace accidents, why should we not be confronted with the reality of the accident?

We should be faced with realities – but the advertising still needs to be done well. More blood isn’t the answer. These ads are so overt that they don’t work in the way they’re intended. I don’t come away from this wondering about workplace safety. I’m willing to bet that 99% of people who watched this either: a) were so grossed out they didn’t notice what it was saying, b) you-tubed and emailed it but didn’t notice what it was saying, or c) laughed out loud.

The success of the Volkswagen ads was the delicate paradox of how subtle the shock was. The car crashes are jarringly real but the end result is that instead of their mutilated bodies you see their emotional aftermath: the flabbergasted passengers, their relief, and their very presence delivers the idea that safety is the most important thing your car can do for you. The result clearly displays the benefit. There is enough shown to grab your attention but enough unseen or unsaid to engage the viewer to actually think about what’s just happened.

The WSIB spots, though well-intentioned, try too hard: blood and screaming and gore and broken bones and that jack-ass yelling “there’s been an accident!” Oh really – has there been an accident? I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to take away from watching the bright-eyed fiancée girl boil her face off… but thank you for so clearly pointing out to me that there’s been an accident. I thought perhaps she was screaming because her soufflés fell.

There’s too much of everything and so consequently nobody thinks about anything. It only works on one-level: shock and awe. That said, traffic to the WSIB website went through the roof and I’m sure lots of people took the message home. The campaign is effective in the end, I just don’t think the ads are very good. But wait – how can you have an effective campaign with mediocre ads you might be asking me? I have an answer – Rush Hour 3.

The Rush Hour movies are the most god awful films ever made and yet they’re onto the third. People don’t necessarily watch what’s good. Lots of people just watch what gets their attention. We live in a media-saturated environment where the overt and the loud will hammer a message hard so that at some point someone will somehow get it. That doesn’t mean it was done well, and neither were these ads.



  1. My friend Hayley was the ladder girl, I’m happy to see friends work. But again, if I didn’t know her, I don’t know if I’d pay that close attention to the message.

    Jonathan sent me the new ad, it horrifies him. He doesn’t watch it anymore. Not sure if they really want people tuning out their message.

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