The Art of Marketing Death

“The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there’s no risk of accident for someone who’s dead”. Such was Einstein’s rationale, at least. However, rightly or wrongly death continues to be one of the most ardent fears we have.

It continues to be referred to with euphemistic phrases and hushed voices; mere cursory glances at the coffin shaped elephant in the room.

It is precisely such attitudes that this image attempts to shake up. It is the trade show advertisement of Tokyo based funeral parlour, Nishinihon Tenrei. Thus, it is a very uncomfortable form of advertising; an advertisement for services after death.

The skelton’s frame is here composed from a network of flowers; petals become muscle, stems become bone. The message is one of affirmation; that decay organically breeds renewal.


The Japanese advertising company behind the image explain,

The March 11th earthquake and tsunami had a traumatic effect on Japan. Issues of life and death, hope and despair, beauty and tragedy became an all too real part of people’s everyday lives. Funerals became a commonplace ordeal as the nation dealt with unprecedented loss. Like most cultures, Japanese funerals are somber events accented with black and white, with any deviation considered inappropriate. For this reason, Japanese funeral home Nishinihon Tenrei approached Tokyo-based ad agency I&S BBDO to create an ad for a trade show that would buck the trend of muted colors so prevalent in the industry.

The image has divided opinion internationally, with many outraged at the idea that death or the afterlife can be commercially marketed.

We think the image is beautiful in its simple design and unabashed message. There’s something to be said for such a direct approach to this fact of life; if a little unnerving.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you think there’s a right way to go about this type of marketing? What role do images and design have in helping us confront our ideas about death?

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