A Saskatchewan researcher says advertisers should not be afraid to show death portrayals in their ads, but it’s important to know your audience, and figure out your message.

Death is not always deadly in advertising

Media and pop culture are rife with representations of death. Through crime and drama shows on television, video games and even the daily news, modern citizens are confronted with images of death an average of every two minutes, researchers estimate.

Has the time come to introduce death – long considered a taboo topic among marketers – into advertising?

That was the central question behind a new study from marketing professor Barbara Phillips at the University of Saskatchewan’s Edwards School of Business.

In a special feature in the Globe and Mail, Dr. Phillips (PhD) sought to examine consumers’ feelings about portrayals of death in ads for products or services that are typically not associated with the topic, such as paper towels or fast food. That differs from previous research that focused on shocking or provocative images of death (considered off-putting to consumers), or ads for life insurance or social causes such as HIV or cancer that are directly linked to death.

Her study challenges the notion that talking about death is always a bad move for marketers who want to avoid trigger anxiety and sadness in consumers.

Instead, it found people surveyed were generally receptive to portrayals of death in ads, although age played a strong factor in a consumer’s reaction.

Read more about Dr. Phillips’ research in the Globe and Mail.

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