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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Offensive Advertising

This isn't about Carl's Junior, Desperate Housewives, or Victoria's Secret. In fact, I'm willing to bet that the author of this campaign has Christian origins. Yet, I was as repulsed by this marketing technique as any other.

Jason and I were heading to lunch on Thursday afternoon. As we approached downtown, we spotted two large panel trucks. There was something painted on all four sides of the cargo section and we both strained to see what it was...

I wish we hadn't.

One van had the picture of a 10 week-old "fetus" while the other had an 11 week-old "fetus." "CHOICE?" was emblazoned above each picture. For the first time in my life, I was ashamed to be "Pro-Life."

I am pro-life. I refused to refer to any of our children as a "fetus" while in the womb. To me, terms like that just de-humanize the baby. I believe abortion is murder. I believe when we say "pro-choice" that is an accurate designation...you are choosing the comfort of matured woman's life over the existence of a baby. I believe Roe v Wade was one of the darkest days for our country. I always thought I'd be willing to do whatever was legal to help prevent a person from considering an abortion. I realize I was wrong. Though legal (I assume), I just can't endorse this campaign for the following reasons:

1. What about children? I would hate to think what would happen if a five year old child walked out of a store right when the van drove by. What do you tell your kid? How do you explain what they just saw?
2. What about a woman who had an abortion? There was zero compassion found on that van. Most research shows that a mother who has aborted a child is already struggling with emotion. How does this van come along side her?
3. You can't gain an audience. Seriously, when people are repulsed, they don't stick around to see your point. I have no idea what pro-life agency was behind this advertising. I didn't want to know. That would have required my looking at the van more closely.
4. It de-humanized the baby. Would anyone ever place a postmortem picture of a 30 year old victim of a drunk driver? No (maybe I underestimate humanity). We have a respect for the dead. We understand that this is a human life and is sacred. We would not use the corpse for a marketing campaign. However, when he/she is an unborn child, somehow it's different? I don't think so. By placing these pictures on a van, we send the message that these babies were not fully human. Because they didn't breathe air, their lives were not as sacred as ours? This campaign sent the opposite message as desired.

I don't doubt that the intentions were pure. These people were passionate about saving lives. I just wonder whether their method may have worked contrary to their motive. I know it makes me reconsider not just my message, but my method too.


  • At 12:56 PM, Anonymous ~d said…

    that last line is a powerful truth and excellent reminder - that we must consider not only our message but our methods. Oh, how my brain is busy making applications! Thanks, Danny; I needed to "hear" that today.

  • At 5:10 PM, Blogger Jones said…

    What a coincidence. The message at church this morning was about how the message needs to be presented in a loving way. I couldn't agree more.

  • At 9:56 AM, Anonymous brian said…

    great thoughts danny. The respect of human life includes the "little ones" too. Using their bodies to prove a point, I think, is a pretty big double standard--and unproductive, if not detrimental, to the cause. Thanks for writing this.

  • At 2:55 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    not really a commentary on method v message, but russell moore has a thought provoking article on our attitude toward abortion.

  • At 12:53 PM, Anonymous Andrea said…

    I couldn't find your email address but I had an issue that came up in my Global Awareness class today that I wanted to ask you about. My professor was talking about religions in Africa and then made a comment about the ten commandments. He said that there was an african king in the country of Newbia, Africa that wrote what we would consider the ten commandments 10,000 years before Moses did. He also told the class that Moses was well aware of this when he presented the ten commandments as his own. My professor said that there are facts proving this statement. How am I supposed to tell him that what he told my class was wrong? What information can I use? I don't know, it bothered me that he presented that to the entire class as factual rather than his opinion. My email is adyke@capital.edu and I would appreciate hearing back from you. Thank you!

  • At 1:25 AM, Blogger Jeremy Bear said…

    Yeah, I've seen that ad. I hate it too.

    I've spent the entirety of my career in marketing, which has forced me to ask a lot of difficult questions about the ethics of certain ad practices. The lowest of the low has to be the sex industry when it comes to manipulative images, shady practices and outright falsification.

    Sadly, I'd put religious groups, Christianity included, at a close second.

    Having worked for a Christian publisher for a period of time, trust me: it can get pretty seedy and dishonest. Few groups are more easily manipulated than faith-based organizations and we tend to prey on our own without realizing it.

    But, abortion... you know, for right now, let's leave ethics out of it and look at it as a case study for marketing practices. Bottom line: does the ad work??

    Nuh uh.

    A good ad should:
    1) Have a well-executed aesthetic
    2) Associate the product or message or brand with something positive
    3) Speak clearly and specifically to its intended audience
    4) Be memorable
    5) Be single-minded with its messaging
    6) Be appropriately married to the medium its using to communicate

    So this ad fails in nearly every area, I think.

    1) Aesthetically (at least the ad I recall), it's a mess. A pro designer did not lay this thing out. A backwater group with too little money and too much enthusiasm put it together and the message suffers.

    2) Needless to say, the ad fails to associate anything positive with the message. It's the pro-life organization's worst nightmare image and it's what people now think of when they think "pro-life".

    3) The ad doesn't really know who its intended audience is, it's more of an ill-conceived scattershot emotional outburst aimed at no one in particular. I'm sure its designer imagines a strange scenario of some young woman on her way to the abortion clinic who sees the sign, repents, and saves her baby. "If this sign saves just one life..." is undoubtedly the rationale, but it's a poor one. Theoretically, maybe you did save that one life... but how many other unborn children will have to pay the ultimate price, owing to the credibility that the pro-life movement has lost?

    4) Memorable? Well, it certainly passes that test with flying colors.

    5) Single-minded? Eh, sort of. It's a single-minded gross-out, I'll give them that. But the confusion with the intended audience makes the ad different for different people, so the unity of messaging suffers.

    6) And, finally, as far as "appropriate medium" goes, no chance. The medium is a friggin' truck. How many other ads do you see rumbling down the road on the side of a dirty semi? In this case, the medium itself loses credibility for the message. It's associating the movement with trucking, which, no offense to truckers, hurts the cause. Its low-rent, ignorant, ill-educated associations only further the notion that abortion is an issue of personal liberty and feminist perseverance by contrast... that conservative "Pro-Lifers" are reactionary dropouts, while "Pro-choicers" are the cultured, intellectual elite.

    Well, if you've made it this far, you know how much I despise that ad. An abomination that Right To Life advocates can do without.


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