Most advertising talks about how the audience wants to feel and shows them how to feel that way. Usually, the path to feeling that way involves buying the product.
This ad is an example of a different type of advertising. This type makes people feel uncomfortable and recommends an action that can help them feel better. Advertisers who promote causes like caring for desperate children or preventing cruelty to animals are fond of this sort of advertising. But advertising of this type is difficult to pull off successfully. It is easy enough to make an audience feel uncomfortable but difficult to steer the audience to the desired action. The audience has many ways to feel better and isn’t limited to the recommended action. The audience can feel better by flipping the page, changing the channel, turning away, or ridiculing the manipulative ad content. So ads of this type often fail because the ads repel the audience rather than inviting them in and, as a result, the recommended actions are missed.
This ad, however, works. It works because its intent is not readily apparent. Rather than immediately trying to make the audience uncomfortable, the ad gives the audience a simple puzzle. How could the fighting in Helmand Province have killed Brandon Ladner in this lovely home? The audience is intrigued by the ad rather than put off by it. As they read the rest of the ad, the audience solves the simple puzzle, tells themselves the message of the ad, and then feels uncomfortable. At that point, it is too late to turn the page or ridicule the content. At that point, the recommended action has a better chance to be the path to feeling better. The recommended action is to visit Mission22.com and enlist in the effort to reduce suicides among veterans.
The organization chose a website name that highlights the startling fact that “22 vets are lost to suicide each day.” The organization may have been better off going with a name that was self-explanatory and not tied to the current rate of suicide—a minor suggestion.
The important fact is that this ad works when many ads of this type fail.