Tricking Kids Won’t Prevent Teen Pregnancy!

Right now, several people in the Milwaukee area are enthusiastically patting themselves on the back for a campaign that is supposedly designed to get kids to avoid becoming pregnant. That’s a noble goal in a city that is plagued with a reputation for being among the nation’s worst when it comes to teen pregnancies and diseases that are sexually transmitted among teens.

A noble goal … and a “marketing” approach that is totally out of touch with reality. Kids are being asked on billboards if they want more cash in their pockets. If so, they’re instructed to call a certain phone number. When they do, surprise! There’s no job waiting for them on the other end … just a message about teen pregnancy. Oh, isn’t that creative? Sponsors of the campaign say they have received 11,000 calls in just over a month. Of course they have … Milwaukee has done a bad job of addressing the need for jobs, so many young people (and adults for that matter) are dying to find a job. I can’t help but wonder how many of those callers remained on the line when they realized they had been deceived.

The trickery approach was tried here last fall, too, when the United Way of all people (sponsor of the current campaign and generally a nice group of folks) plastered signs on bus stops and other places that said “For a Good Time, Call xxx-xxxx.” What’s wrong with that message? Well, where do I begin? For one thing, once again most callers probably hung up when they received a teen pregnancy message. For another thing, how many callers were degenerate adults looking for a “good” time?

And just for good measure, the current campaign has bus ads and billboards featuring a boy with an apparently pregnant stomach. The message is “Shouldn’t it be just as disturbing when it’s a girl?” Well of course it should. But the fact is that we at Johnson Direct considered the same approach two years ago for a client that promotes abstinence, and all involved agreed that all it would do is make kids laugh. Not pay attention. Not get the message. LAUGH!

Battling teen pregnancy should involve helping the kids to develop the coping skills that will enable them to deal with intense peer pressure and highly confusing messages from the media and the entertainment world. It should involve helping them to build self esteem and understand how their bodies work.

The comprehensive sex-eders in the area love to say that abstinence programs don’t work. Well, neither does the kind of trickery that is being foisted on our kids by the United Way and its partners in the sneaky, totally misdirected, but highly creative campaign being conducted now. While the creative will probably win awards, I’ll bet the kids will laugh or become angry, and won’t change their attitudes at all. Why should they? The campaign depends on trickery and messages targeted to adults, not kids. What’s creative about that?

It’s not wise. It’s definitely not nice. It’s insulting to our kids.

And it’s certainly not any kind of meaningful, measurable marketing.

Johnson Direct LLC


The comments expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of Johnson Direct, LLC.