Shock And Awe Makes An Impression

September 15, 2008       Michele Donohue      

A poster featuring a busty, D-cup model will turn heads. Couple it with a precocious, pig-tailed face of a little girl and it will stir an Internet frenzy.

That’s what happened to The United Way of Greater Milwaukee’s (UWGM) statutory rape awareness campaign when the faces of adolescent girls were imposed on full-figured, adult female bodies. But before the campaign could launch, the ad images leaked on the Internet and the campaign was tossed, even though the ads tested well in focus groups.

“It was obvious that the ads were being misconstrued,” said Nicole Angresano, the community impact associate director for UWGM. Angresano said that changes were made to the images and text and the leaked versions represented earlier design prototypes.

“If we were to move forward, those were not the versions they would have seen,” said Angresano, who explained that the ads were created to discourage adult men from having sex with under-aged girls.

Some 71 percent of babies born to teen girls in Wisconsin are fathered by adult males older than 20. In 20 percent of those cases, the fathers are at least six years older than the mothers, according to the Wisconsin Subcommittee on Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention study. The UWGM assumes that the statistics have stayed relatively the same since 1998, through case studies and anecdotal evidence from law enforcement, said Angresano. A new study is under way but results have not yet been released.

“The message has to be understood. If they are just shocked and outraged, what is the point of that?,” Angresano rhetorically asked. “It’s not shock for shock value alone. It’s important to try new things to raise awareness, but it should change behaviors purposefully and thoughtfully.”

People are bombarded by thousands of advertising messages each day. Ads explode from the Web, television, newspapers and magazines. They crowd public areas such as bus stations, sports arenas — even restroom stalls. Some nonprofits, with causes ranging from teen pregnancy to global warming, use provocative campaigns, everything from shock to sex appeal, to bring their message to the masses.

The mission’s success, “whatever it is, it relies on their ability to communicate to someone. You can’t do that if you can’t reach people with your message,” said Gary Mueller, executive creative director and co-founder of Serve, an advertising and marketing agency in Milwaukee that worked pro bono on the UWGM ads.

Serve works on extensive awareness campaigns that Mueller describes as “not hot, not popular and not sexy,” such as teen pregnancy, child sexual abuse, ovarian cancer and Shaken Baby Syndrome. He said that he believes successful marketing is the most important component of a nonprofit’s mission.

“Your job is to get as much attention to your cause as possible,” said Mueller, who encouraged nonprofits to take risks but to stick to “smart, strategic” ideas. “It’s irresponsible if you don’t do the most powerful, provocative campaign to reach the most people,” said Mueller.

Serve has donated more than $8 million of time and services for cause campaigns since 2002, which includes using guerrilla (unconventional marketing tactic that maximizes exposure with minimal funds), stickers of children peering out of gar-bage cans to highlight child abuse and images of bullet-ridden, bleeding safety signs to condemn gun violence.

The UWGM has moved forward with other campaigns, including images of pregnant teenage boys, to shed light on Milwaukee’s high teen pregnancy rate. One outdoor campaign featured writing on billboards and buses “For a good time, call” in child-like handwriting, and more than 14,000 callers were greeted by a teen mom talking about pregnancy over a baby’s screams.

The campaigns are meant to alarm the Milwaukee community, and the city is taking notice.

The Milwaukee public school system agreed to place posters about teen pregnancy struggles in eighth-grade classrooms and high schools. UWGM and Serve are beginning to develop a pregnancy awareness campaign for the city’s fourth-grade children in concert with the city’s health department.

But Mueller warned: “If your ad doesn’t get seen by someone first, it doesn’t really matter what you’re going to say.”

The Montana Meth Project Foundation doesn’t have to worry about exposure. It is the largest advertiser in Montana and runs ads during the local feeds of shows like American Idol and The Simpsons. In the ads they are doing more than just frying an egg, like the famous “This is your brain on drugs” ad.

The television ads have actors as drugged-out teens breaking into houses or hitting parents, in an attempt to reduce teen first-time methamphetamine use. Methamphetamine stimulates the central nervous system and the can be highly addictive, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The nonprofit, founded by businessman Thomas A. Siebel, uses powerful researched-based print, radio, television and billboard advertisements about the drug’s risks.

“You have to get them to relate. We need to communicate with them in ways and places they can listen to,” said Nitsa Zuppas, Siebel Foundation’s executive director. Only alcohol and marijuana beat out meth use in some Western and Midwestern states, according to the federal DEA. “You can’t be in any of these communities and not see devastation. It’s incredible,” said Zuppas.

Researchers found that teens thought there was little risk to meth use and even cited benefits for use, like alleviating boredom, losing weight and increasing energy. The project tackled the drug use as a consumer campaign and developed hard-hitting ads that resonated with focus groups.

The project focused on addiction — the main component that turned kids off to meth use — and developed television ads that show teen drug users attacking parents, robbing houses and pimping out others – all for meth money. One ad shows a boy overdosing while his friends get high in the same room and in another a girl promises that for $50 men can do “anything you want” to her and her sister.

“Advertising is very effective. We wanted to un-sell kids on meth,” said Zuppas. “They need to be able to see themselves in that situation. We made sure the risk was in line with reality and shows the potential outcomes in an effort to get them not to use it.”

Film notables, like Oscar-nominated director and producer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, whose work includes Babel and 21 Grams, and Darren Aronofsky, who directed Requiem for a Dream, have directed the project’s television ads.

Montana teenagers’ meth use has dropped more than 44 percent since 2005 with the aggressive campaign and stricter laws, according to the Montana Department of Justice, and Wyoming, Arizona, Idaho and Illinois are duplicating the campaign.

Other campaigns have to catch attention around the world. Issues concerning global warming are receiving more media attention, but the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a New York City-based nonprofit, wanted to increase the issue’s immediacy. One television advertisement features a man discussing that “irreversible consequences” global warming are 30 years away and won’t affect him, but steps away to show a speeding train ready to hit a little girl with a tagline explaining, “There is still time.”

“The feedback was that we’re not attuned to the climate issues. People have seen that ad and said, ‘Oh my God, what if I’m wrong?’ and changed their mind,” said Tony Kreindler, national media director for EDF. “That ad is designed to convey the urgency of the climate change issue, a threat that people might feel is somewhat distant. It lets people know it’s not too late.”

Kreindler said that another EDF ad “turned some heads and raised some eyebrows” on Capitol Hill by featuring Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.), Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D-Mont.) and Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-Utah) in their state’s pristine settings urging Congress to act on global warming.

“Within certain circles, that’s provocative, as well. The settings reflect where they are and directly saying to Congress, ‘You have to do something,'” said Kreindler. The governors volunteered their time and EDF spent approximately $3 million on broadcasting the ads in 11 states, including spots during Meet the Press.

Using big names to promote large causes isn’t new to nonprofits. When People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) started in 1980, the Norfolk, Va.-based nonprofit exposed animal cruelty by sharing undercover information with the media.

But the organization had to “change with the times” to get its information out, according to Michael McGraw, a PETA spokesman. “The media has become so sensationalized, and down-right tabloid, and its increasingly more challenging to get these cruelty issues in the news,” said McGraw. “A number of advertising and marketing campaigns try to cut through the clutter with competing news. We’ve had to rely on provocative tactics and use celebrities to get the public attention for issues.”

Some anti-fur ads feature celebrities, like Simple Plan band members and actress Persia White, holding a skinned fox carcass paired with the slogan, “Here’s the rest of your coat.” It provokes consumers to consciously think about where the fur came from. McGraw said that PETA works with a “small advertising budget” since all celebrities and most photographers, make-up artists and others donate their time and talents. Campaign price tags can range from no cost at all to a few thousand dollars for media placement, such as running billboard ads in Times Square, said McGraw.

Sex appeal can sell, but PETA uses it to raise awareness. McGraw said that clicks on the Web site videos spiked when actress Eva Mendez posed in the “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign.

McGraw said the “fluffy” marketing drives people to PETA’s Web site, where consumers wanting to learn more about animal cruelty can watch graphic informational videos on animal testing and meat factories that are anything but fluff.

Nonprofits can use softer approaches to address hard-hitting issues. Take the color pink. Pink traditionally doesn’t inspire power, but millions of women fight a strong battle under that color.

Each year more than 211,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Some breast cancer awareness nonprofits want to increase early detection and are using different techniques to target younger audiences.

Rethink Breast Cancer, a Toronto, Canada-based charity, teamed up with sponsor Schick Quattro for Women to launch the Booby Wall, an interactive online gallery where women can post pictures of their breasts.

The Web site promotes Rethink’s “Touch. Look. Check.” (TLC) early detection program for breast cancer awareness. The wall launched in January after a test run this past fall at the L’Oreal Fashion Week and National Women’s Show in Toronto. Women lined up to take pictures of their breasts in the Booby Booth, an enclosed space, to upload the pictures straight to the Web site. The Booby Booth will be traveling across Canada in consumer shows this year to promote the TLC program and the Booby Wall.

“We needed to do something a little bit more provocative,” said Alison Gordon-Farber, Rethink’s marketing and communications director. “I think that there are a lot of messages put out there. We needed to break through the clutter” and have women take control of their breast health, she said.

“The objective needed to be about the TLC program and not just about pictures of breasts,” said Gordon-Farber, who said the site targets a Web-savvy audience. “We don’t have a million dollars, so this is a great way to engage women. We thought it was done really well.”

Leigh Hurst from Middletown, Pa., doesn’t have millions of dollars either, but she did have her humor. Hurst told friends to “feel your boobies” after she discovered a breast cancer lump when she routinely checked her breasts for irregularities.

“Messages out there weren’t reaching us or getting our attention,” said Hurst, who was 33 when she was diagnosed. She decided to put her mantra on 100 T-shirts and gave them to friends. Three years later, the Feel Your Boobies Foundation has sold more than 10,000 T-shirts targeted at women younger than 40 and has branched out to bags, magnets, bandannas and key chains sporting the “Feel your boobies” tagline. The merchandise sales Ð with shirts priced from $25 to $30 Ð and donations sustain the awareness program. Annual revenue hit nearly $150,000 in 2007, with donations accepted only since July.

“I’m targeting a group of women who don’t have breast cancer and don’t think they have to check,” said Hurst. She thinks the “sexy, funny” campaign message “creates a conversation” that promotes self-health awareness instead of taking a clinical approach to breast cancer.

“It’s important not to just look like a cute T-shirt,” said Hurst, who ran the message on an aerial ad at the New Jersey shore this summer. “It provokes a message to help you start a behavior to save your life.” NPT