How Far Is Too Far? The Antecedents of Offensive Advertising in Modern China

Gerard Prendergast and Wah-Leung Cheung
Hong Kong Baptist University

Douglas West
University of Birmingham, UK


People may perceive advertising to be offensive for a variety of reasons (Aaker and Bruzzone, 1985). The issue is sensitive for agencies and their clients: In some cases, advertising that “offends” some audience pockets also has been found to significantly increase attention, benefit memory, and positively influence behavior (Dahl, Frankenberger, and Manchanda, 2003). Such “positive offensive” outcomes, in fact, can benefit the brand (LaTour, Pitts, and Snook-Luther 1990).

“Negative offensive” advertising, by contrast, offends target audiences to the point where the outcome is anything but positive. Erotic stimuli in advertising, for instance, may produce a negative impression (LaTour, 1990) or simply may be irritating in its phoniness or overdramatization (Aaker and Bruzzone, 1985). Negative offensive advertising may damage a brand's image and endanger customer loyalty. The immediate consequences of offensive advertising include pressure on advertisers (to withdraw the material), media (to stop accepting the advertisements), or marketers (company/product boycotts) (Schwartz, 2001; Tilles, 1998; Wong, 2000). Over a longer term, offensive sex-role portrayals in advertising have had a negative impact on purchase intention (Ford, LaTour, and Honeycutt, 1997).