National Family Planning and Reproductive Healthcare Association
Issue Advocacy, Strategic Communications Planning, Media Relations, Issue Advertising
In 2002, Congress was considering increasing funding for so-called "abstinence only" education by a quarter-billion dollars. While the messages of these campaigns, "Just Say No" and "Wait Until Marriage," might sound reasonable, the information (or lack thereof) provided about important issues such as condom use, protection from sexually transmitted disease and emotional damage from sexual activity was not scientifically valid. Simply put, those programs were a misguided waste of taxpayer money.
In the aftermath of 9/11 and constrained by the intellectual paralysis of opinion leaders in the face of "he said, she said" abortion politics, reporters were only moderately interested in this story. Despite the placement of nuanced, interesting stories in all the top national newspapers (and in the home newspapers of key legislators) and the generation of a steady drumbeat of blisteringly-sarcastic national editorials, columns and opinion pieces, this legislation never became a flashpoint controversy. It remained a minor piece, likely to be passed in a larger bill devoted to welfare reform.
To reinforce the national reporting that Turner Strategies had already driven on the issue, we decided to "get personal" with legislators using a guerilla advertising and Internet advocacy campaign. Ostensibly aimed at well-educated, upper-middle class parents, the print, video and radio ads and the website played off the language in the abstinence-only campaigns. They featured an attractive forty-something woman sitting in her living room, drinking a cup of coffee. Pictures of her teenaged daughters are framed on the wall behind her. Her script reads: "I was shocked to learn the Congress wants to spend a quarter billion in our tax dollars to lie to our children about sex. Yes, talking about the birds and the bees is difficult. But lying is just plain wrong." The tagline says, "Just Say No to Tax-Payer Funded Lies."
Turner Strategies made a minor ad buy: a handful of national CNN spots, and some D.C.-based and strategic regional drive-time radio. We also made some minor Internet banner-ad buys. People were primarily driven to the website through this campaign and through hundreds of thousands of e-mail alerts sent by the various reproductive rights organizations. Congressional offices were flooded with e-mails from outraged constituents.
The real target of this campaign was not, however, parents. It was legislators. But how does a small cable TV and regional radio and Internet banner campaign move legislators to action? And what happened to the beautiful print ads we developed but never placed?
We postered the Capitol Hill neighborhood and the streets near the homes of key legislators. We distributed them on the Hill to members who were weakening in their resolve to vote against this money. The copies of the ads delivered to Hill audiences were accompanied by a letter signed by the major reproductive rights groups and the scores of news clippings about the campaign. The letter conveyed the message, "We appreciate your support. Wanted to let you know about the ad campaign running in the districts of some of the people opposed to this."
Politicians are largely motivated by the desire to be re-elected. They are as protective of their personal "brands" and (by extension, relationships with key constituents) as any Fortune 100 company. Radio spots were running in their districts. Turner Strategies had already generated national and local press attention to the launch of the campaign. Web banner ads were strategically located where we knew staffers and members would see them. Finally, the ad buy and our creative distribution of the print ads created an implicit threat -- support the reproductive rights community on this or we are going to make it very hot for you in your home districts.
Ultimately, the legislation was cut out of the TANF Reauthorization bill. The reproductive rights groups largely credit our guerilla creative work.