Autism campaign attracts negative attention

From the New York Times:

The Child Study Center at New York University said on Wednesday that it would halt an advertising campaign aimed at raising awareness of children’s mental and neurological disorders after the effort drew a strongly negative reaction.

Disorders like autism, depression, bulimia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder were the focus of the pro bono campaign.

The two-week-old campaign, created pro bono by the advertising agency BBDO, used the device of ransom notes to deliver ominous messages concerning disorders like autism, depression, bulimia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The note about autism, for example, read: “We have your son. We will make sure he will no longer be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives.”

Let's review Advertising 101 -- what's the purpose of an ad? Advertising is a one-way communication whose purpose is to inform potential customers about products and services and how to obtain them.

And what does it take to inform? Attention, understanding and action.

They've definitely gotten attention, most people understand and were called to action. Unfortunately, the action was a negative one. First, the Child Study Center is now pegged as being unsympathetic to the emotional needs of developmentally disabled children and parents. So much so that:

Advocates for children with autism and for other special-needs children said the ads reinforced negative stereotypes.

“While many individuals spoke to us about the need to continue the campaign, inadvertently we offended others,” said Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, the Child Study Center’s founder and director, who estimated that he had received 3,000 e-mail messages and phone calls. Thirty percent of those praised the initiative, he said, and 70 percent expressed anger and hurt.

Your target audience was angry and hurt? Ouch.

My favorite thing from the campaign is that they didn't trust their own gut instinct:


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