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The “killer” ad: an assessment of advertising violence

Magnus Söderlund (Center for Consumer Marketing, Stockholm School of Economics, Stockholm, Sweden)
Micael Dahlén (Center for Consumer Marketing, Stockholm School of Economics, Stockholm, Sweden)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 16 November 2010




This paper seeks to examine whether violence embedded in stories in ads can contribute to advertising effectiveness along the same lines as well‐researched ad elements such as the celebrity endorser and the physically attractive ad model. More specifically, the paper aims to assess whether violent content in an ad story adds to excitement perceptions and to overall evaluations such as the attitude toward the ad and the attitude toward the advertised product.


The paper uses an experimental approach comprising two studies in which participants were randomly allocated to ads with different levels of violence in an ad story.


The main finding is that representations of real violence (as opposed to staged violence) produced higher levels of excitement, attitude toward the story, attitude toward the ad, and attitude toward the advertised product compared with no violence. Such effects, however, were moderated by the level of congruence between the ad story and the advertised product; the highest response levels were obtained for ads with violent story content dealing explicitly with the advertised product.


The finding that violent stories in ads can have a positive charge is consonant with the assumption that violence is a narrative device that may heighten the excitement created by a story. It is also in accord with the observation that many consumers appear to relish stories with a violent content. Yet the main finding challenges existing research on violent ads in which violence consists of an image visually co‐exposed with a brand – and it questions the dominant approach in media violence research, which emphasizes the negative effects of media violence.



Söderlund, M. and Dahlén, M. (2010), "The “killer” ad: an assessment of advertising violence", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 44 No. 11/12, pp. 1811-1838.



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