The Pennsylvania Liquor Board’s new ad campaign was intended as a warning about the increased risk for rape when women drink heavily, but accusations that the ad blames rape victims for their attack has caused the Board to pull the ads.
Between the wording and the imagery, it’s easy to see how the perception of blame comes into play when the focus of the ad should really be responsible drinking to protect yourself from the threat of rape. In addition to the ad seen here, another version reads, “Date Rape. See what could happen when your friends drink too much.”
Shock tactics are extremely common in advertising, but are they effective at capturing people’s attention, and in this instance, inciting a change of behavior? Adam Duhachek, an associate professor of marketing at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, says not necessarily. He told The Wall Street Journal that two things can limit the efficacy of ads portraying negative outcomes: “The first is that people just shut down and don’t process the message at all,” because people might see the disturbing images and think, “I was having a perfectly nice day until I saw this, and now I’m not going to look at it.” The second issue is that negative ads trigger a “defensive processing mechanism” in which viewers actively distance themselves from the presented outcome, thinking it can never happen to them.
With the ad pulled, these factors may not be an issue when it comes to alcohol-fused sexual assaults, which a spokeswoman for the Liquor Board says happen to more than 97,000 people on an annual basis. But wording on the board’s website, controltonight.com, which is visible on the ads still tells women to “Call the Shots” and presents hypothetical situations of what could happen if young women drink too much with friends. For many, the undertone of blame may still be present.
What’s your take on the ad campaign? Does it promote blame when it comes to women who are victims of rape after a night of drinking? Or do you think it encourages personality responsibility?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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