New ads in New York City subways targeting teenage women are stirring up controversy. The ads show crying children confronting young mothers with statements like, “Honestly mom, chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” Those opposed to the ads say they're shaming girls, by pointing out how their actions could ruin their child's life. Those who support the ads say they’re only intended to make teens think twice about their decisions because pregnancy affects everyone, not just the mother. It’s just “tough love,” the city government says.
Shame is a dangerous way to try to influence others. Imagine me saying, "People who don't read my articles are more likely to be dummies and failures." Whether or not something is true, shaming people about the fact they’re doing something—or not—is guaranteed to make them defensive. The reader's mind instantly clicks into "who are you to tell me” mode and they stop listening. I am curious to see how well this ad campaign performs, but I have a bad feeling it’s not going to make much of a dent and may even increase the number of pregnancies (that's the "I'll show you" mode).
Positive messaging is always a better approach. What if the ad said, "Did you know that if you wait until after your teen years to become pregnant, your child will stand twice the chance of graduating from high school?" or "Waiting to become pregnant is what makes you a great mom!" Positive ads have a much bigger, and more long-lasting impact.
Read more Marketing Watch articles.