10 Aug

Shark! Gaining attention quickly

By Elyn Buscani (Account Manager) and Lauren Reed (Intern)


Since 1988, viewers have anticipated the annual terror premiering on Discovery Channel: Shark Week. Shark Week is the longest-running cable television programming event in history. Every year, people anxiously wait to see the latest shark shows such as Tyson vs. Jaws and Air Jaws. The advertisements for Shark Week also live up to the hype of the actual event. Recently, Shark Week Blimps have made news as they flew up the coasts of the United States. Though some Shark Week ads are more lighthearted, many intend to scare audiences with jumpscares and frightening images of sharks. Often, advertisements can focus on pleasant or happy imagery; how can Shark Week stray away from this with still having so much success? What can we learn from our collective obsession/fear that can be applied to successful marketing?

 Urgency – Shark Week draws viewers to Discovery because it is a limited offer.

Discovery is not the shark channel, but it becomes so for one week and one week only! People must see this phenomenon before it is gone. When Shark Week first premiered in the 1980s, it was impossible to watch it on-demand. Though Shark Week is now available on-demand in 2022, the limited-time offer that was created in the 1980s still stands. Shark Week has evolved to fit the modern era, featuring an active Twitter account that tweets funny gifs and interactions with fans. People can now join celebrities and rave about Shark Week on social media before the week is over. This limited-time offer creates an urgency to the deal and can quickly capture attention. New and current consumers are reeled in by the sensational offer. Once it is gone, they will keep a hopeful eye out for its return.

Visuals are essential – Sharks drive attention.

What makes someone look at an ad? A shark can turn heads. Since the release of Jaws, there has been a collective fear/obsession with sharks in society that was not as present prior to the movie blockbuster. More people die from dog bites than shark bites, but sharks look more deadly. Shocking visuals can create a better impact than words, especially when people are watching with the sound off. Discovery has strived to display shocking visuals in its advertisements such as unique footage of sharks leaping from the water. Sometimes Discovery will create a little narrative in some of its Shark Week advertisements that capture curiosity. In a 2022 advertisement, several sharks swim toward Dwayne Johnson. The viewers are intrigued by the rising tension and are rewarded with the thrilling shot of dozens of sharks. Focusing on interesting visuals can successfully attract an audience.

Fear is motivating – What will the sharks do next?

As Todd Van Slyke, an advertising instructor at The Illinois Institute of Art-Schaumburg, states, “Fear appeals strike a nerve with people who have doubts about things…They play on our inherent fears of the unknown or that something is going to kill us. That is why scare tactics are stunningly effective”. Fear brings motivation to keep watching to see what will happen. Shark week uses fear in advertisements to get attention and leave them wanting a resolution or explanation. One of the 2022 advertisements that Discovery has put on television for Shark Week features a jump scare of a shark chasing a seal. Though advertisers often play to happier emotions, fear or surprise can also have positive results.

Gaining attention quickly in advertising is something that Shark Week has done well through its creative and well-crafted advertising campaigns. These ads are not something to be ignored; no one can look away from the scary sharks that are just here for the week!