When is a campaign offensive? Perhaps when the issue is not only sensitive, but complicated. A non-profit organization in Georgia called Strong4Life spearheaded a campaign started in the spring of 2011 that raised awareness about the childhood obesity problem in the state. According to health officials, Georgia has one of the worst childhood obesity rates in the country, second only to Mississippi. Childhood and health advocates are torn about the campaign, because they believe that bringing more awareness to the issue is crucial (Strong4Life is working with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta) but others feel like the black-and-white, in-your-face imagery is not the way to attack such an issue.
Below is one of the videos that represents the description of the campaign. And note that these children are paid actors.
The campaign is to get in front of parents and tell them that it is time to do something. What parent wants to hear that their child is suffering from hypertension? That's an easy question to answer. The harder question is, who wants to be the parent to take the blame for causing it? Like in a classroom full of children who won't 'fess up for putting chalk in the erasers, a room full of parents would have firmly tucked their hands into their pockets.
According to Strong4Life, 75% of parents of overweight kids ignore the problem. Linda Matzigkeit, a top executive of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, told ABC News that around one million children in Georgia are considered overweight or obese. With the sheer number of unhealthy children, and the overwhelming statistic of parents doing nothing, that is a formula for a strong response.
A non-scientific way to measure the effectiveness of a campaign is the public outcry. When tackling a sensitive subject like childhood obesity, one would imagine that there will be many people coming out in favor or in disagreement of such a campaign. The outcry for this one has been interesting. Across the board, healthcare professionals see the need for and relevancy of such a campaign. The only thing disagreed on is the blunt nature of the advertisements.
But in the ads, and as you saw at the end of the video, the final line says, "Stop sugarcoating it, Georgia." So why are people surprised at the blunt messaging?
The goal of the campaign was to raise awareness that Georgia parents were either 1) doing nothing about it or 2) didn't know where to receive information to help their children. It seems that the campaign certainly got the conversation going.
Rebecca Puhl of the Rudd Center for Food Policy at Yale believes that this campaign could hurt the very people it aims to help. Hate to break it to you, Rebecca, but that is one of the risks that comes with awareness campaigns. Earlier in 2011, there was talk about the "overpinking" in America and the commercializing of curing breast cancer. Do you think some people got upset about that?
The situation is similar. Yes, obese and overweight children will be thrown into the spotlight because of this campaign. But the campaign is doing it because they feel that they need help.
Back to the question we posed at the beginning of this post: when is a campaign offensive? Let's say when the audience targeted is represented unjustly, is ridiculed, and when facts and stories are distorted or downright untruthful. Does it apply here? No.
The only thing that could be offensive here is if the campaign is ignored.