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Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Is there power in certain public service ads?

Along with The Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Inc.’s website, a new series of advertisements have been designed to fight childhood obesity in Georgia – the state with the reported second highest childhood obesity rate in the nation.

The ads are arresting – discussing “adult diseases” like Type II diabetes and hypertension in children; ideas about the loneliness and ridicule by being fat. These are serious black and white images of what appears to be sad youngsters and their stories.

Whether you agree or disagree with the approach – the bigger issue is whether or not this kind of execution will move one million overweight children and their families to awareness and greater health.

And if the ads are more upsetting or gruesome, will they really work even better to get the public to change?

This arena of health-related public service messages often remind me of the many anti-smoking ads promoted by New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene – specifically the “311 Online Quit Smoking Assistance” program. 

Amputated fingers, graphic pictures of mouth, throat and lung cancer and heart disease are so shocking, they are designed to make smokers want to take the final step to stop smoking forever. But, as some suggest, is this all the proof non-smokers need to feel superior about their choice? I have even read in an advertising textbook that the sheer discussion of smoking or drinking (even ads about quitting) get those who think they are invincible (ie. teenagers/young adults) to start.

I believe that these public service ads are designed to build awareness but the decision to change lifestyle comes from something other than a 30-second message. If these ads get you talking — and thinking — then they have done their job. And that is all they are able to do.  Stopping the bad habits? That’s ultimately up to you.

A number of years ago, an anti-smoking ad depicted a young child in a busy train station, seemingly abandoned by his parent. The loss was compared to what it would be like if your child didn’t have you around because your life was cut short due to smoking.  The bigger controversy wasn’t about smoking, it was focused on the way the “actor” was crying on screen – marketers and consumers thinking that the child was purposely scared while filming to get a realistic effect.  But to me, that’s missing the point. 

In my view, it’s a home run when the ad tackles a difficult topic in a way that is so meaningful it “hits home” without a lot of flourishes or fancy explanations. I don’t need to analyze the director’s motives for developing the message,  I just need to get it.

David Ogilvy, one of advertising’s greats once said, “A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.” He also said, “Advertising is only evil when it advertises evil things.“

In this case, I think he got them both right.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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