Do we really need “horror” and “terror” on Shark Week?

Yeah, that was a rhetorical question. If I want horror and terror, I’ll watch a horror movie, NOT Shark Week. (Hey, I like Jaws just as much as anybody, but it’s a FICTIONAL horror movie.)

Creativity-Online’s recent article about the promotional website, Frenzied Waters, for the Discovery Channel’s upcoming Shark Week is filled with references to instilling fear into Shark Week’s potential audience. I don’t consider Creativity-Online’s article to be irresponsible journalism, as they are merely reporting on what the Discovery Channel and Campfire have cooked up to promote the upcoming Shark Week. In fact, while Campfire’s promotional website does nothing but perpetuate negative stereotypes about sharks being man-eaters (and apparently, dog-eaters), they are in the business of creating media campaigns that capture attention and were hired to create a fear-based horror-themed campaign. In that respect, Campfire’s campaign for Shark Week sets out to do exactly what they were hired to do. To Campfire’s credit, from a design and technical standpoint, their site is impressively put together, regardless of the content.

That leaves us with the Discovery Channel. According to the article, Campfire Co-Founder/ECD Mike Monello said that the Discovery Channel wanted to, “tap into people’s fear of sharks and bring back the fear of Shark Week.”

Now, why would I give a free-pass to Campfire for creating a horror-based entertainment vehicle, but then turn-around and call out Discovery Channel over it? It’s simple, I expect more/better from Discovery Channel, because it is the worldwide leader in non-fiction programming. Discovery Channel is marketed as a learning/educational themed channel, while Campfire’s philosophy is quite a bit different. According to Discovery’s corporate site, “John Hendricks launched Discovery Channel in 1985 with a mission to satisfy curiosity and make a difference in people’s lives by providing the highest-quality, nonfiction content, services and products that entertain, engage and enlighten.” Is creating an unnecessary sense of fear towards sharks really “enlightening” the audience? People who watch programs on Discovery Channel do so under the assumption that they are watching an educational work of non-fiction. Focusing a marketing campaign around sharks attacking humans for programming that is expected to be educational is just plain irresponsible and seems to go against their Corporate Social Responsibility statement, in my opinion.

While I won’t be see ignorant as to not understand the fascination of people with the predatory aspect of sharks, I still do not understand why Discovery Channel feels the need to perpetuate fear rather than respect of this aspect of sharks. At the end of the day, I guess the marketing experts at the Discovery Channel concluded that tapping into fear could earn them more advertising dollars than educating viewers would. At the rate that worldwide shark populations are decreasing, I would think that Discovery Channel would see that their “cash cow” is at risk of running dry. Perhaps, it might be a good idea to focus on conservation rather than fear. Apparently, that wasn’t in the marketing plan for Shark Week this year.

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