The 30-second TV spot from McAdams, Richman & Ong, Bala Cynwyd, Pa., is a "Hitchcock-style thriller" in which a snorkel camera "slithers" over the side of a bathtub and toward the drain as it promotes the exhibit about sharks and other deadly creatures.
Some parents complained the spot plays on children's fears of being sucked down the drain. Debate lasted more than an hour earlier this month on one local radio station.
"Our goal was to use normal, movie scare tactics to get people, including older children and their parents, to come see a scary show," said Tom Ong, creative director. "We intentionally used music and sound effects; and [actress] Linda Hunt's voice was perfect. We are not trying to hide the fact that we used Hitchcock techniques to try to create a feeling of danger. There is no denying that."
Judy Wellington, president-ceo of the aquarium, said about two dozen phone calls had come in; not all were complaints.
"We wanted the ad to evoke the feeling of fear, and we've clearly done that," she said. "Because we targeted 10-year-olds and up, we bought time on only adult programs. What I'm discovering is that many parents let young children watch adult programs. I doubt we'll pull the spot, but we may modify it somewhat."
Attendance at the exhibit that runs through Sept. 30 was up about 30% in the two weeks after the spot broke, she said.
The agency did the spot on a project basis, but is hoping to win the $600,000 business. The aquarium, which had been using the Philadelphia Zoo marketing department, expects to name an agency within 10 months, Ms. Wellington said. Harmelin & Associates has been handling media placement.