When are breasts obscene?
But what happens when one small clinic decides to use breasts to advertise their natural purpose, feeding babies? The idea is categorically rejected as 'offensive.'
So goes the case of By Choice Midwifery in Des Moines, Iowa.
If you're unfamiliar with midwifery services, think of them as something akin to an organic version of Planned Parenthood. Their principal job is to assist mothers in natural births--sans the drugs and high-priced equipment. By Choice also offers assistance ranging from prenatal care to menopause counseling.
Last fall, By Choice planned its coming out party. Partners Dana Ericson and Carey Ann Ryan had been in business three years and wanted to market their services citywide, so they approached Universal Outdoor Advertising with a novel idea: They wanted to promote the value of breast-feeding and use bare breasts to do it.
It seemed logical to them. Who would argue against displaying one of Mother Nature's better designs?
Apparently, quite a few people.
The By Choice campaign, created by a Toronto ad agency, consisted of three ads. Each showed a baby at its mother's breast, accompanied by slogans like
'Free hookup with every delivery,'
union offers security, no dues, and great benefits,' and
'Sometimes it's okay to suck up to the boss.' (The
latter concept won a trophy at the London International Advertising
Awards.) They wanted to launch the campaign with an even more
provocative message: a billboard showing naked breasts accompanied
by the caption
'Fast food outlets. Two convenient
A salesman for Universal, which controls the lion's share of billboards in town, thought the idea kosher. Corporate HQ did not. The salesman told By Choice that his superior found the concepts 'offensive' and nixed the account.
The decision didn't make By Choice happy. How, they ask, can a natural function like breast-feeding be construed as obscene? Especially when the industry passing judgment uses breasts to sell nearly everything else? 'When you relegate a woman's breast to a sexual organ, you're missing the fact of what they're primarily there for,' says Jean Douglas Smith, who works with By Choice.
Few media outlets are willing to take a few hundred dollars in ad revenue at the risk of offending other customers. Fox television has become a viable fourth network largely on its skill at taking risks to attract a young audience. But Ted Stephens, vice president and station manager of the local Fox affiliate, would turn down the By Choice campaign as well. 'We would get tons of calls,' says Stephens, whose channel averages 30 calls a day. 'The viewers are very proactive about telling us how smart or how stupid we run our station.'
A Canadian survey, however, suggests that the advertising industry might be the timid one. Health providers displayed the ads at a mall in Saskatoon, not exactly a raving bastion of liberalism. The providers asked 438 passersby for their impressions on the ads, and 83 percent responded positively. Said 62-year-old Murray Cliff, who was quoted in Saskatoon's Star Phoenix newspaper: 'There's nothing wrong with it. It's the beauty of motherhood.'
From Cityview (Des Moines, Iowa), Nov. 29, 1995.
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