Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Should blood and gore sell safety?

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I admit it, I'm a sceptic when it comes to advertising.

As part of the No Logo generation, I still cringe if I put on clearly branded clothing and debate whether to attend the Cannes commercial festival when it's at the Winnipeg Art Gallery each year.

Paying good money to see spots that are by definition supposed to be selling ME something puts me on edge.

So...when the police launched an ad campaign Monday with some very graphic images (think of a dad choking on his own blood, and a howling teen) my gut instinct was to nay-say. 

However, after some careful consideration, I have to say the advertising spot is well-produced and made me cringe with its crash imagery (as opposed to cringe in the 'This is so cheesy and reactive' kinda way.

There's a thick layer of fromage that coats many Manitoban public service announcements.

(You know EXACTLY who you are.)

The best part of covering the story? Take a look at the ads that inspired the Manitoba ones, from the Transport Accident Commission in the state of Victoria, Australia. Unbelievable. 

Or this cheapie ad made by police in South Wales, now an eight-million-hit YouTube wonder.

Our homegrown ads aren't as long, but they're still pretty slick production-wise. My biggest critique would likely be that the blood looks a little fake, but the scripting and shooting was a clear step up from a lot of PSAs.

And I think a bit of a cutting-edge approach will get the spots noticed. But at what cost? 

Jan Frizzley, the mother of the late 27-year-old Amanda Frizzley, says the ads are a legitimate way of getting attention.

This struggling, thoughtful mother didn't find the ads exploitative -- she found them moving. I can say with complete confidence that the Frizzleys know nothing can bring Amanda back after a speeding, impaired driver struck her truck, but Jan would want anything to stop another family from suffering. Her take on the brutal nature of the ads counts for a lot.

By the way, I'm not sure she would say the same about a justice system that let her daughter's killer out after 12 months.

That's another story, though.

Which brings us to the crux of the issue: is there ever a legitimate use of an overused button-pusher like violence to gain a wider good? I think the salacious and thrilling nature of violence both attracts and repels people, and is often used by uncreative advertisers (and culturalists at large) to inspire reaction in people. Like sex.

This might be one of the rare circumstances where a case could be made for using that violence to try and influence people to avoid risk: crash scenes are legitimately violent. And scary. And instantaneous. And life-altering.

They're exactly what they're being sold as in the ads, for once. A rebel sell, if you will.

(Plus, if you learn anything on the crime beat -- it's how much people fear being victimized by violence. The true threat is that you're arguably far more likely to watch your life fall apart by something vehicle-related than being a victim of serious crime.)

Central Traffic Unit Staff Sgt. Mark Hodgson -- who has far more experience than I do -- makes some compelling arguments that one day we might see a cultural shift where speeding is viewed in the same light as drunk driving.

I'm not sure yet if such a shift will happen anytime soon. Or if, over time, the shock value of graphic ads will desensitize us and corrode our inbred sense of horror at the legacy of violence.

But I will drive home slower tonight.

It is a start.

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About Gabrielle Giroday

Gabrielle has handled the police and crime beat for the Winnipeg Free Press since 2009, meaning she’s seen the best and worst humanity has to offer.

Covering the crime beat in a city known for its homicide rate and violent crime can be challenging, but Gabrielle tries to look at the more complex factors that drive violent events. She began the beat after originally joining the Free Press in June 2005.

Her previous experience contributing to the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business magazine, the National Post, Maisonneuve magazine and NOW Magazine. She was also a member of the editorial board of the Queen’s University Feminist Review, and completed a degree there in politics and English. Some of the Toronto native’s favourite adventures include hitchhiking in the Cuban countryside during a stint studying in Havana, and hanging off the back of a jeep climbing the Kanchenjunga mountain in Nepal.

Gabrielle also felt privileged to write about the first-time elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the summer of 2006, and received a grant from the Canadian Association of Journalists and Canadian International Development Agency to write about sexual violence there.

She recently went to Cameroon in fall 2010 as part of an expert election monitoring team, on behalf of the Commonwealth.

When she’s not chasing a story, Gabrielle can be found jogging every morning by the Legislature and down Portage Avenue.

She’s always enthusiastic about stories that involve investigating the road less travelled or the opinion less broadcast.

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