The Ten Most Terrifying Body Horror Ad Campaigns
WHY WON'T THIS GENRE GO AWAY.
Body horror – also known as organic or biological horror – is a genre that provokes terrified repulsion by graphically depicting or describing the mutilation, transmutation or disintegration of the human body. Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis (1915), in which a man turns into a monstrous insect, is an influential body horror story, as are many of Roald Dahl’s stories, the Alien films and the earlier movies of David Cronenberg.
Body horror is frequently used as a shock tactic in public service advertising, to hammer home awareness of important social issues. (Researching this article, I found an utterly distressing motorcycle safety ad in which a man deliberately grates his arm to a nub on a road.) But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
I’m talking about regular ads for consumer products and services, which are perhaps even more horrific because they think they’re being cool, funny or metaphorical. Advertisers want consumers to buy their products, right? So why do they depict products grotesquely consuming the human body?
It says a lot about the prevalence of body horror in advertising that in February, digital movie studio Rocketjump took the piss out of it in a fake ad for the fictitious ‘Big Game’ range of kids’ snacks. Titled ‘Every 90’s Commercial Ever’, the video absolutely nails the zany tone of kids’ body horror advertising… but extrapolates the sinister subtext to its natural, gory conclusion.
If only the genre could be safely consigned to the ’90s. Here are ten more nightmarish ads that may send you into a tailspin of nope.
Sprite, ‘Slam’ (2008)
Created by Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong, this oddly violent ad basically reminds me of suicide bombers. Only if you watch very carefully do you notice that the young people drinking Sprite and slamming into each other are not actually disintegrating in a shower of Soylent Green; they are shown afterwards, bathed in liquid.
But it troubled me for years to watch people looking so joyful as the liquefied remains of their friends rain down upon their faces.
Sprite, ‘The Spark’ (2010)
I always thought there was something a bit off about Drake. Now I know: he’s actually a frightening jigsaw-puzzle android constructed of old speaker parts.
What makes Bartle Bogle Hegarty New York’s ad all the more upsetting is the counter-intuitive way the Sprite he drinks acts as some kind of energy source or lubricant for his robot parts, when we all know that if you pour sugared water into anything electronic, you ruin it for good.
Xcite, ‘Dog Breath’ (2003)
This repulsive ad for breath mints, by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, received a record number of complaints to the UK Independent Television Commission, and was pulled within 10 days.
I am okay with the actual idea of barfing up a dog; it’s when the manky dog shakes itself, spraying the room with chunks of who-knows-what, that my skin begins to crawl.
Mentos Ice, ‘Nipples’ (2006)
Bartle Bogle Hegarty London made this to promote the Italian brand Air Action Vigorsol. Quickly banned there, it moved to Belgium and then to Australia, where oddly it flew under the radar. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop created the half-finger, half-penis prosthetic teats. The prehensile way they waggle about is grotesque, but worse is the ad’s utterly misguided claim that chicks find them attractive.
But the truly chilling horror sets in with the closing suggestion that this monster is about to disfigure a poor, innocent woman by feeding her the terrible mints.
TDK, ‘Evolve To TDK’ (1998)
This 1998 campaign, created by Belgiovane Williams Mackay, riffs off the classic jingle “TDK does amazing things to my system”. But the ‘things’ being done to these creatures’ ‘systems’ make me feel quite comforted that VHS and audiocassettes became obsolete.
Their square eyes and giant ears look silly now, but these posthuman creatures’ bizarre postures and gestures are still creepy, as if they’re imprisoned in a mental institution or a secret government research facility.
Yoplait GoGurt, ‘Go Fly A Kite’ (2010)
Saatchi & Saatchi New York’s long-running campaign for kids’ liquid yoghurt in a tube is seriously freaky. Did you ever read the children’s book Flat Stanley, about a kid who survives being crushed in his sleep to pull zany stunts like being sent through the mail? That’s what this is like.
The worst bit is that the kids who are reduced to two dimensions by their zeal for yoghurt seem genuinely afraid, and do not at all enjoy being folded into all sorts of degrading objects.
Toohey’s Extra Dry, ‘Tongue’ (2003)
BMF Sydney set tongues gagging with this Benny Benassi-soundtracked monstrosity about a sentient tongue. It is horrible to think it goes back in his mouth after licking the road.
In 2013, BMF made the nightmares start back up with the dreadful ‘Repay Your Mouth’ ad, in which the disembodied mouth chastises its hollow-faced owner. The bitter, jaded ad creatives who hang shit on their peers in the comments section of Campaign Brief were unanimous in hating it.
Skittles – Every Ad Ever, Send Help
In TBWA\Chiat\Day New York’s awful world of Skittles advertising, rainbows aren’t just something you taste – they fundamentally fuck up your body. Among the worst is ‘Plant’, in which a boy’s mother exploits him for the Skittles tree growing from his stomach. ‘Liar, Liar’ shows a teenager humiliated because Skittles fall from his ears whenever he tells a lie. In ‘Hourglass’, a guy eats Skittles and makes his housemate age devastatingly. ‘Transplant’ shows a sinister symbiosis between Steve and José.
But by far the worst is ‘Touch’, in which Tim explains that turning everything he touches into Skittles is a living hell.
Skittles, ‘Struck By A Rainbow’ (2014)
BBDO Toronto follows in TBWA’s horrible footsteps with this short mockumentary following a man named David, whose skin has been turned into Skittles in a mysterious meteorological mishap. Watching David try to dress himself or strum a guitar isn’t even as bad as his wife literally eating his face.
Of course, the most important question was relegated to the YouTube comment section:
Triple M, ‘Dr Dan’ (1988)
Triple M’s mascot — a sinister, guitar-wielding winged satyr called Dr Dan — used to terrify me as a child. This classic 1988 ad, created by OMON Sydney and directed by future The Crow and Dark City director Alex Proyas, imagines Dr Dans being mass-produced in some Terry Gilliam-esque foundry.
Personally, I still find Dr Dan’s glowing demonic eyes the creepiest, followed by the weird old men who suck up the severed ears. And when the radio blows apart, does it mean all the workers we’ve been watching have just perished in a catastrophic industrial accident? Who should we blame? (whispers) Triple M.