University curriculums were recently subject to scrutiny usually unseen outside Tumblr’s city limits. This semester, experts questioned whether trigger warnings are necessary for the well-being of students taking classes containing emotionally daunting material.
For those unfamiliar with “trigger warnings,” Buzzfeed defines this as “a bold introductory statement alerting readers that unsettling content follows.” This is not a new concept, but merely an extension of the courtesies we afford to victims of war trauma to include victims of all traumas. Just as many veterans suffer from shell shock and in turn avert themselves from war films and fireworks, victims of domestic and sexual abuse, too, often tend to avoid forms of entertainment graphically detailing events similar to their experiences.
In short, these warnings are very helpful for victims of traumatic events who feel uncomfortable facing sensitive situations.
So, how does the debate over the necessity of trigger warnings affect how we advertise?
In continuing to exist, advertising has a few responsibilities in compromising with a society that despises it:
- It has to be quick
- It has to be concise.
- It has to make an impact.
And more often than not, to make an impact, ads shock or surprise their audience. Check out McCann Paris’s bone-chilling PSA for Le Mouvement de Nid, a French organization devoted to promoting awareness of violence against unlicensed female sex workers:
This web-based promotion masquerades as a just another website for “meeting women” called “Girls of Paradise.” Unsuspecting clients visit the website and are met with multiple profiles of beautiful women with whom they can converse via phone or web chat. However, upon initiating conversation, the client is not greeted by the person they expect, but are instead “shown photos of the woman, beat up and bloody, or simply told that she isn't available tonight because she was killed in a manner most grisly” (Adweek).
Girls of Paradise “brutally breaks the fourth wall of fantasy and drives cold, ugly reality into clients' faces” (Adweek) and scores a gold Clio as a result. However, suppose a victim of sexual violence unknowingly wandered onto this website - would it trigger them? And should ad agencies care?
To answer this question, there are two factors to consider:
Bulletpoint A: Is a racist ad directed toward a white audience ethical? Of course not. It perpetuates harmful stereotypes for the sake of eliciting a cheap laugh. Likewise, is it worth it to surprise one demographic for a second or two at the expense of their not-so-neurotypical counterparts?
Bulletpoint B: Fortunately, unlike racist ads, triggering ads aren’t so black-and-white (no pun intended). Victims of trauma don’t ask that all pertinent material be hidden away and burned Fahrenheit 451-style, but rather ask only that a message precede their engagement and warn them of what’s to come. Chicago educator Brad Akin issued this statement in regards to school curriculums: “Trigger warnings help people suffering from PTSD navigate potentially triggering material so that they CAN engage, not so they can disengage.” Likewise, Girls of Paradise could potentially educate its audience just as effectively by warning them of graphic content prior to engagement without losing their viewership and risking negative affect.
Trigger warnings won’t dampen an ad’s potential impact - they’ll simply broaden your organization’s positive affect and impact without throwing your more sensitive audience members under the bus in an attempt to do so.
Read more at:
Shocking Advertising: http://www.forbes.com/sites/gyro/2012/07/17/the-ethics-and-efficacy-of-shock-ads/#4b4b2504100c
Trigger Warnings: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/inside_higher_ed/2015/12/trigger_warning_debate_some_professors_say_they_build_trust_others_say_they.html
Brad’s Statement: https://www.facebook.com/bsakin/posts/10154508806079337?hc_location=ufi