Last week, the Outdoor Advertising Association in the UK began a campaign with the intent of showing the relevance of billboard advertising. However, their choice of slogan, “Career Women Make Bad Mothers“, proved to be too controversial and had to be removed. Not surprisingly, the outcry from working mothers was intense and the negative publicity from online parenting web sites could not be ignored.
The ad campaign, which ran on the side of buses and thousands of billboard sites, was supposed to continue for a total of two weeks. With the parenting site Mumsnet.com leading the charge, the OAA ordered the ads to be removed. Although the organization maintains that the slogan doesn’t represent their opinion and that the bold statement was chosen purposely to spark debate on the Britainthinks.com web site, critics are not buying it. The posts on Mumsnet.com were angry, defensive and more importantly massive in number.
“It takes a village,” as the old saying goes, or in this case an online community to get action. I have no doubt that if it weren’t for sites like Mumsnet.com which give a voice to everyday people, those ads would have run their full two week course. The ads would have sparked anger and working women would still have been as equally appalled, but I don’t think the attack on the campaign would have been so pointed or successful without the means to organize and circulate that negative reaction. The online forum provided the platform for the women to mobilize and to put pressure on the OAA to get those ads taken down.
The offending billboards have been replaced with other slogans that are also geared toward healthy debate: “Educashun Isn’t Working” and “1966: It Won’t Happen This Year.” The latter refers to England’s chances in the World Cup, hardly a hot button issue. Neither seems to be hitting a nerve the way the original one did, but is that because these are less of an issue to society or because there isn’t a group of defenders closely banded together? Much can be said about that motherhood bond–when it comes together, it is a force to be reckoned with.
Even though the ads were cut short early, the agency can view their campaign thus far a success. If the intent of the ads was to prove that billboards are still in fact relevant, what better way to show that? The attention and publicity was so overwhelming they had to pull the ads. Even when the publicity was negative (and they had to have some idea that would be the case), it was still publicity. That means that people were paying attention and people were reading it, which is precisely what they wanted to prove. This happened in the UK, but I wonder if anyone would dare to post that kind of billboard here in the States? Would we have had the same reaction and end result?
If someone was brave enough to launch that type of campaign here, I absolutely think we’d see that same fighting spirit from the working moms, and the parenting web sites would be in high gear to seek and destroy. The same would be true for any passionate large group of people. The Internet has made it so easy for people to stay connected and spread information that it is the best weapon in one’s arsenal. Yet in this case it also shows that a traditional advertising medium is far from dead. Isn’t it ironic?