Change Conversations blog

3 min read

More Good Causes Hurt by Bad Ads

By Pat Heffernan on 1/13/14 12:00 AM

Teen pregnancy poster in NYC - Flickr

Sigh. You're probably not surprised any more by inappropriate ads created by major commercial brands (and their agencies) seeking to win awards and break through the clutter solely based on advertising shock value. But you and I expect more of a nonprofit or public agency promoting a social good. Yet since our last look, seemingly well-meaning but misguided social marketing campaigns continue to hurt good causes with bad ads.

NYC's Teen Pregnancy Prevention campaign

Four teen pregnancy posters - Flickr

New York City's Teen Parent campaign uses a classic "shaming" message delivered with extra emotional impact by toddlers. The most most controversial version features a crying baby boy with text that reads, "I'm twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen." AdWeek reports that Planned Parenthood of New York City (among others) has denounced the posters, claiming they ignore the racial, economic and social factors that contribute to teenage pregnancy and stigmatize teen parents and their children. Four of the five ads use statistical facts in a negative and harmful way. Only the fifth (lower right above) has a positive message for the intended audience.

Lung Cancer Alliance "Deserve to Die" campaign

"The tattoed deserve to die" poster from

The problem with this campaign is that the message is lost. The bold images and shocking headlines are legible, but the lung cancer stigma message is nuanced and easy to miss in the small type size used for the short bites of copy on posters. The campaign (actually named "No One Deserves to Die") included "Hipsters Deserve to Die," "Cat Lovers Deserve to Die," "Crazy Old Aunts Deserve to Die," and so forth, simply could not effectively advance the Lung Alliance's goal as explained on its website:

Many people believe if you have lung cancer you did something to deserve it. It sounds absurd, but it's true. Lung cancer doesn't discriminate and neither should you. Help put an end to the stigma and the disease.

 PETA "Victims of Sexual Abuse Speak Out" ad

Generally for my next example I'd choose one of the many anti-rape ads that continue to show women in sexualized poses and blame them as victims. But even PETA, long known for its aggressive tactics, stunned me with the insult to human victims of sexual abuse evident here.


Related: More good causes hurt by bad ads

The Public's Health: Does anyone deserve to die of lung cancer? (

Teenage Parents Have Only Miserable and Vindictive Babies, Say NYC Ads (AdWeek)

The Lung Cancer Alliance

Sex assault ads miss the mark, teens say (Herald News)

Check out our Guide to Inclusive Language to help you communicate
  • There are no suggestions because the search field is empty.

About Change Conversations

The Change Conversations blog is where changemakers find inspiration and insights on the power of mission-driven communication to create the change you want to see.


Creative Commons

Creative Commons

© 2009- to present, Marketing Partners, Inc. Content on the Change Conversations blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License to share as much as you like. Please attribute to Change Conversations and link to ChangeConversations.

Creative Commons License may not apply to images used within posts and pages on this website. See hover-over or links for attribution associated with each image and licensing information.