When a Campaign Ad Goes Wrong

I’m by no means a therapist, but I am a professional Marketing and Communications expert. After I was able to control my dismay of the new ad by the City of New York, I smiled a little and thought that their message was certainly targeted towards the wrong population. With their strategy to shame teen parents, and the children of teen parents they’re only getting the support of the people that already on their side, the people that already think teen parents have no future and that their children have already started way behind their peers born into two-parent homes of older parents. Hmm…wouldn’t an effective marketer have thought that if this campaign was targeted to teens, for them to prevent teen pregnancy, a more relevant strategy would have worked better? Well then maybe they don’t understand positive youth development, and they certainly failed to identify with their target audience.

I’m a former teen parent who was aided by organizations who value positive youth development and understand the importance of this approach in order to assist youth to reach their full potential. Positive youth development focuses on the strengths of an individual (youth) and builds on the weaknesses without labeling. I’m a fan of statistics; I like to see the research to prove a point, but I do think it was tasteless to use a child, to use statistics without clearly establishing the source, and to use the tactic of embarrassment for a young parent. Aren’t we supposed to be an accepting community? Don’t we constantly speak out against bullying? How is this poster any different? 

I always like to say that my children are already pre-disposed to being at the bottom of their class, not have a parent who is involved, etc. I then follow those comments by gloating (yes, I brag) about their academic successes. I’m not alone in this — there are plenty of unheard voices of young parents out there who have found far more success than I have. Maybe this campaign was effective; it allowed the people who do believe in young parents to prove them wrong. It certainly had us talking about the obstacles and the hardships of teen parenting, and it certainly had a thing or two to teach to those young parents who still feel lost and helpless – know that you’re not alone, there’s help and there will always be someone who will believe and who will not allow you or your child to fall into the grim statistics highlighted in this poster. We’re saving a spot for you in the numbers that say we are capable of obtaining college degrees, find financial sustainability, and raise children who will break the cycle. 

In turn, if the goal is to urge teens to be safe and delay teen pregnancy, wouldn’t a more effective way have been to obtain the input of teens on what they consider to be an effective way to communicate this exact message? Again, that is called positive youth development. As adults, we must exercise the use of good judgment, and this as certainly was an example of what not to do. I’m planning of having this conversation with my pre-teen daughter. At the end of the day, her input is more valuable than anything I could ever try to persuade her with. My only hope is that the City can revamp their way they’ll try to convey this message. I’m curious to see try number two. 

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