No Guts, No Glory – CHOA’s Campaign to Stop Childhood Obesity

Posted on Jul 24, 2012 | 0 comments

In 2011, the buzz started. Friends and I were noticing some unsettling ads in bus shelters around the city. Black and white images of somber overweight children filled the ads, expressing their own discontent with their weight and body images. It made us uncomfortable. Sad even. How dare someone call a kid fat and so publicly shame them?!?!? But that kid IS fat and something DOES need to be done to help them. So is this as wrong and bad as it seems at first glance? That became the center of the debate over meals and on Facebook threads for months to come. I had the opportunity to hear Tim Whitehead, VP of Marketing & Communications at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA), present at the monthly luncheon hosted by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in Atlanta last March. I was interested to learn about the casting of models for this obesity campaign, how the public reacted, and how CHOA ultimately responded.   Facing an Epidemic: Why CHOA Decided to Take Action From CHOA’s web site: Georgia has the 2nd highest percent of obese children in the United States. Nearly 40% of Georgia’s kids are overweight or obese, which means nearly 1 million kids in our state are facing a medical crisis. Childhood obesity in the United States has tripled since 1980 from 5% to 17%, based on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted by the CDC. For more facts on the epidemic of childhood obesity in our nation, visit: Doctors at CHOA have seen an increasing number of children facing obesity-related illnesses once only seen in adults such as heart disease, hypertension, liver and kidney disease, and type 2 diabetes. Naturally, CHOA realized there was a need to address this as the epidemic that it is. Apprehensive about the impact that the ads might have on the self-esteem of overweight children, CHOA did extensive research and early market testing to learn what kids wanted to hear and how they wanted to hear it. The feedback they received? “Don’t sugarcoat it.” Kids wanted to hear the truth.   Raising Awareness: CHOA’s Initial Challenge Without letting people know how out of control our children’s weight problems had become, CHOA stood little chance of preventing and reversing the epidemic. By boldly addressing the issues facing obese children, CHOA sparked a dialogue that spread like wildfire with “more than 10 million unpaid media impressions in 2011.”   Tracking Progress: The Value of Market Research As CHOA tested various concepts ranging in degrees of shock-value, they asked themselves how this campaign serves their mission of helping kids – even worrying that these ads might actually go so far as to hurt children. After the initial campaign launched, CHOA was very proactive in measuring the ads effects on the state’s children. Specifically, they were concerned about the effects these ads might have on bullying. Ultimately, their studies showed a DECREASE in bullying of overweight kids in Georgia.   Next Steps: Combatting and Preventing Childhood Obesity CHOA very smartly planned a strategy that extends well beyond just pointing out the problem. Their mission of helping kids lead them to the development of a “Strong 4 Life” program to enable children and their families to begin learning healthier eating and fitness habits. The Strong 4 Life program visits schools to educate children, provides free resources to teachers and parents, and hosts fitness fairs around the state. In addition, recent ad campaigns have focused on parents’ roles in helping their children make healthier choices. These messages target parents as much as children with tips...

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Gutless Ad Campaigns Deserve to Die

Posted on Jul 11, 2012 | 0 comments

Sitting through the third cycle of a left-turn arrow in rush hour traffic, I sat with my head in my hand, leaned against the window mindlessly cataloguing the contents of the refrigerator to determine if I could conjure up some form of a decent meal at home. As my eyes scanned the streetscape they stopped abruptly on a huge ad in the bus shelter.  “The Genetically Privileged Deserve to Die.” WHAT? Admittedly, the typography caught my eye first. I thought, “There’s a ballsy move. That’s some huge typography!” Then when I read the headline, I was baffled. Pair that with the strange woman in the photo, and the ad just crept right into my subconsciousness and stayed with me. It took me a couple of days to finally remember to Google the ads when I got to the office, but it stayed with me longer than any other ad I’ve seen in quite some time. From the car, I couldn’t see the reveal – the secondary explanatory information that conveys the true heart of the campaign – that lung cancer patients face an unfair stigma that they somehow have done something to deserve the disease. Nor could I see the logo and associate the message with lung disease. For me, that makes the campaign work. I had to think about the campaign for days before I was able to figure out its point. When Laughlin Constable, the agency behind the campaign, first launched the ads they went up without the reveal statements – saying only “Tattooed People Deserve to Die,” or “Crazy Old Aunts Deserve to Die,” etc. Naturally this was met with some controversy –  including some viewers in New York ripping down the ads. But this tactic achieved the same type of reaction that I had as a viewer from a distance – it created mystery, confusion, and in some instances an emotional reaction. When was the last time you had an emotional response to an ad about prostate cancer? The campaign walks a very fine line of possibly offending people – and already has offended some. In his New York Times article about the campaign Stuart Elliot writes that “the reaction to the campaign so far has run ’80/20 supporters versus those who may find it offensive,’ says Laurie Fenton Ambrose, president and chief executive at the Lung Cancer Alliance in Washington. That is fine, she adds, because ‘we had to do something bold, brave, provocative and edgy, too,’ to ‘shake both the consciousness and subconscious’ of the public and generate ‘more compassion and support’ for those with lung cancer.” In a matter of days, my own awareness has been raised and the campaign has created buzz beyond the streets – landing itself on the pages of the New York Times. I would say that these types of calculated risks are too few and far between. Understanding the value of your message and being willing to risk offending a few people in hopes of educating them can really pay off. The HTML 5 based site deserves some attention too. Head over to and start scrolling down. You’ll find some pretty fascinating numbers about the impact of lung cancer and how comparatively under-funded it is. And quite smartly, all your scrolling leads you to an opportunity to share your findings on Facebook. Job well done Laughlin Constable. What are your thoughts on this type of “shock-vertising?” Atlanta has begun to see its fair share of shocking ads related to health issues. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta recently shocked the city with its wave of ads targeting obesity in children....

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