Archive for the ‘Advertising & Marketing’ Category

October 10, 2013

All Pinked Out in October? There’s a Cure for That! Join the Think Before You Pink Campaign

by Annie Sartor
Policy and Campaigns Coordinator, Breast Cancer Action

Why is the breast cancer epidemic still raging after 30 years of “awareness” and pink ribbon products?

Each year, corporations pack the shelves with pink ribbon products, surrounding us with “breast cancer awareness” messages. These products help to raise billions of dollars in the name of breast cancer, and yet more than 40,000 women in the United States still die of the disease every year.

And many corporations sell pink ribbon products in the name of breast cancer that actually contain chemicals linked to an increased risk of the disease. At Breast Cancer Action, we call this blatant hypocrisy “pinkwashing.”

For 12 years, Breast Cancer Action’s Think Before You Pink campaign has held corporations accountable for their toxic pink ribbon products. This year, it’s time to say we’ve had enough. Instead of targeting pinkwashers one at a time, it’s time to go straight to the source — the chemicals in these products that are making us sick in the first place.

Do you have any idea how many toxic chemicals are in the average pink ribbon product? Nope? Neither do we. Nor does anyone!

Toxic Time is UpAll anyone knows for certain is that only a small handful — about 200 of the over 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States — have been tested for human safety. And that’s a serious problem for all of us.

These chemicals are found in everyday consumer products such as plastics, paint, clothing, and cleaning supplies, including an unknown number of pink ribbon products being sold in the name of breast cancer.

Evidence of the links between environmental toxins and cancer continues to mount. In 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel reported that “the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated [and] … the American people — even before they are born — are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures.”

And just this week, yet another study came out showing an even stronger link between BPA and breast cancer than we’d previously thought.

Why is pinkwashing so prevalent, and even possible in the first place? Our current chemical policy, the Toxic Substances Control Act, is extremely outdated and woefully inadequate to protect public health from hazardous chemicals in our daily lives.

Thanks to a large coalition of health activists, environmentalists, scientists, and thousands of others, pressure has continued to mount for reform of this outdated and toothless law. If strong TSCA reform legislation moves forward this fall, we will have a real opportunity to enact a bill that could make history and be the biggest win for cancer prevention we’ve ever seen.

We refuse to waste another October watching corporations make money off pink ribbon products that contain toxins linked to breast cancer.

Please join us in taking a stand to protect all of us from toxic chemicals that are making us sick, because the manufacturers of pink ribbon products certainly won’t. Sign our petition to end pinkwashing once and for all via strong chemical regulations. It’s time to turn our outrage over pinkwashing into action and ban the toxins that make us sick in the first place.

July 26, 2013

Clear Channel Won’t Run Ads for Women’s Health Clinic, Cites “Decency Standards”

Following a successful campaign urging Facebook to apply its community standards toward pages and groups promoting rape and other violence against women, Women, Action & the Media (WAM!) has launched a new effort: calling on Clear Channel to lift a ban on radio ads promoting a Wichita, Kan., women’s health clinic that provides abortions.

“At a time when access to reproductive health services, including but not limited to abortion, is under ever increasing attack by politicians and antichoice extremist groups alike, it’s ever more critical that women learn about the services that are still available to them,” said Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of WAM!.

The South Wind Women’s Center recently opened to provide a full range of sexual and reproductive health services, including well-woman exams, cancer screenings, contraception and pregnancy-options counseling. It is one of just just three facilities in all of Kansas that provide abortion care — and one of only three clinics in Wichita (which has a metropolitan population of 650,000) that provide subsidized birth control for low-income individuals.

The clinic is run by Julie Burkhart, a colleague of Dr. George Tiller, the abortion provider who was murdered in his church by an anti-abortion advocate in 2009. Burkhart founded Trust Women, which supports South Wind, to continue Tiller’s vision of entrusting women to make their own decisions for their health and their families. It does not perform late-term abortions as Tiller did.

In defending pulling the ads, Clear Channel claimed the ads are “divisive” and violate “decency standards.”

How “divisive” are the ads?

They never use the terms “abortion,” “pro-choice,” or “reproductive rights.” The first ad is completely innocuous and mentions the expertise and experience of the clinic’s family medicine and ob/gyn providers.

The second ad might be considered more provocative — but only to those who refuse to trust women with their own health decisions. While it never explicitly mentions Tiller’s murder, it reminds listeners that the clinic was “founded to re-establish access to full spectrum reproductive health care.”

Sadly, the most controversial message in these ads may be that the Center is “entrusting women with their own medical decision-making.”

The WAM! campaign also points out the irony in Clear Channel’s advertising: “Wichita’s Clear Channel stations happily play ads for a local sex shop. How is blocking access to information about where to get maternity care and cancer screenings less ‘divisive’ than running sex ads in a conservative Christian town?”

On Thursday, Wichita’s Clear Channel General Manager Rob Burton told a reporter: “As members of the Wichita community, KZSN has a responsibility to use our best judgment to ensure that advertising topics and content are as non-divisive as possible for our local audience.”

Tell Clear Channel that you’ll #changethechannel (hashtag for the campaign) unless it starts running South Wind’s ads. Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Sign SWWC’s petition to Clear Channel calling on the company to run the ads and stop blocking women’s access to health care information.
  • Contact Clear Channel to tell them you’ll #changethechannel unless it agrees to run SWWC’s ads:
    • Call Wichita General Manager, Rob Burton, at 316-494-6601, and Wendy Goldberg, Clear Channel’s senior vice president for communications, at 212-549-0965. Tell them:
    • -Women deserve to know about and have access to legal, safe healthcare.
    • -Refusing to run these ads is what’s truly “divisive.”
    • -Clear Channel is restricting free enterprise, and hurting women by restricting their access to health care.
    • -Clear Channel is letting a tiny minority of anti-choice extremists dictate what women will and will not have access to.
    • -You’ll #changethechannel unless Clear Channel lets South Wind Women’s Center’s ads run.
  • Ask your friends to do the same!

May 29, 2013

Campaign Against Gender-Based Hate Speech on Facebook – Activists Win!

#FBrape campaignLast week, Women, Action and the Media (WAM!), The Everyday Sexism Project, and writer/activist Soraya Chemaly — with the backing of more than 100 organizations, including Our Bodies Ourselves — issued an open letter to Facebook calling for the social media giant to address hate speech targeted at girls and women.

Facebook pages that had been allowed, despite the company’s existing anti-violence content policy, featured depictions of men kicking “sluts,” images of beaten and restrained women, and numerous rape jokes. A link to examples is provided on this WAM! page.

Smartly, the #FBrape campaign asked supporters to contact advertisers whose ads appear alongside this content, noting that “advertisers should be aware that their brands will appear in positions that sponsor content that mocks, trivializes or promulgates gendered violence.”

Campaign leaders also emphasized that the existing reporting functions were insufficient, providing clear examples where Facebook moderators failed to remove reported content. Meanwhile, we have witnessed instances in which pages created by women that feature photos of moms breastfeeding or health information graphics have been banned.

Some companies responded positively, agreeing to pull their ads from Facebook until it takes real steps to address and remove pages that promote gender-based hate speech. Other companies, including Dove, said that while they object to the content, they could not control placement of their ads — which is why better action on Facebook’s part is necessary.

On Tuesday afternoon, after supporters sent more than 60,000 tweets and 5,000 emails to advertisers and Facebook, Facebook made an official response to the campaign, committing to the following actions:

  • Reviewing their hate speech standards and working with representatives of the campaign coalition and others for input
  • Updating their training for staff members who evaluate reports of hate speech
  • Increasing accountability for content creators
  • Establishing more formal and direct lines of communications with representatives of groups working on this issue

You can read the delighted response from the campaign organizers, along with lots of media coverage. And, hey, the campaign made The New York Times – the business section, no less, rather than being placed alongside more “lifestyle”-oriented content where stories that affect women often appear.

Big congrats to WAM!, Everyday Sexism, Chemaly, and everyone who worked to call attention to this issue. One look at the comments on Facebook’s statement reminds us that there is a long way to go toward making the internet a less hostile place, but this is a great step forward.

April 3, 2013

What’s Wrong With Fertility Clinics and Online Advertising

Did you know the United States and New Zealand are the only nations that permit direct-to-consumer (DTC) pharmaceutical ads?

A decade ago, Kaiser Family Foundation found that every $1 the pharmaceutical industry spends on direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising yields $4.20 in drug sales, and that DTC ads were responsible for 12 percent ($2.6 billion) of the total growth in drug spending in 2000.

Groups such as Our Bodies Ourselves and the National Women’s Health Network have long argued for stricter regulation and elimination of DTC drug advertising, due to the tendency to overstate drug benefits and understate risks in order to increase pharmaceutical companies’ profits.

There is some minimal governmental regulation of traditional DTC ads (i.e., print, TV) with respect to the claims companies can make and information they must provide — although the level of oversight is insufficient to fully protect consumers from misleading and manipulative claims about drugs.

For web-based DTC advertisements, however, there is even less oversight and more mixing of advertising and information content, increasing the risk that consumers will be confused and misled.

This is the case with fertility clinic websites, which represent a multibillion dollar industry. Evidence suggests that fertility clinics’ approaches to online advertising present significant problems for consumers seeking objective information about success rates and clinic practices.

Since 1992, as a result of pressure by consumers and organizations, U.S. clinics have been required to report their success rates to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which publishes this data (see reports on assisted reproductive technologies).

More than 146,000 cycles of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) are reported to the CDC each year (primarily in vitro fertilization attempts), meaning that there are many consumers who are having these procedures. But, consumers looking for fertility-related information and/or providers are more likely to visit fertility clinic websites than the CDC website.

Sadly, these clinic sites too often try to influence consumers with misleading information about their ability to create successful pregnancies. ART is expensive (averaging $12,400 per cycle, with many patients requiring two or more cycles) and often is not covered by insurance, so it is natural for patients to seek a provider who can maximize their chance of success.

Yet a recent analysis of web content from 372 U.S. fertility clinics (out of a total of 381 clinics) suggests that the success rates being promoted are not based on reputable practices and/or standards.

The analysis examined websites of the clinic members of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), which represents most U.S. fertility clinics. SART’s guidelines require clinics to compare their success rates only to the national average, but 46 percent of the clinics violated this policy.

Of those, 47 percent described their success rates as “superior” or “among the best,” without indicating what they were comparing themselves to (which is prohibited under SART guidelines). Over one-third (39 percent) of clinics that provided a success rate failed to describe how the rate was calculated (as SART requires), making it impossible for potential clients to gain a meaningful understanding of the rates.

Clinics also fail to meet the American Medical Association’s (AMA) guidance on website content; one study found the majority of fertility clinic websites failed to meet basic  guidelines such as describing how they protect patient’s privacy. The AMA does not investigate websites’ compliance or issue non-compliance penalties, however, and the only consequence for noncompliance with SART’s guidelines is for clinics to lose their membership (not a very significant penalty).

Consumers face challenges when trying to evaluate clinic performance in other areas as well. ART clinic sites frequently use non-medical and non-verifiable content and advertising tactics to entice potential patients. Many use words like “dream” (30 percent of websites) on their homepages. Many mention their excellent technology (84 percent), personal approach (75 percent), and high-quality doctors (70 percent) — factors that, while important, do not provide objective information by which to compare clinics.

An example of non-specific information is provided by a clinic that calls its prices “competitive” and says it “lacks hidden fees,” but does not provide an actual fee list.

Concerns about ART advertising date back to the field’s beginning in the late 1990s. Then, as now, concerns include the commercialization of medicine, inability to assess service quality, and a lack of accountability. Studies have found that clinics fail to provide objective measures of success; to note when their procedures are experimental (and may have lower success rates); and to generally comply with SART guidelines.

The only thing that’s new is that consumers now have ready access to misleading and poor information online, making it easier for consumer to access and, therefore, to be misled.

What can be done to help patients navigate the maze of on-line fertility clinic information? First, consumers should view these sites with a critical eye, recognizing that words like “miracle” and photos of smiling babies are intended to evoke specific feelings and encourage spending lots of money at a specific clinic. The sites should be considered to be advertisements rather than sources of accurate, verifiable medical information. Consumers should consult the CDC data (recognizing that comparisons may be difficult and clinics may select patients in ways that influence their rates).

Second, we need better oversight of clinic website content, including independent assessment and disclosure of how well clinic websites meet industry guidelines. SART and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine should establish new guidelines that reflect how clinics actually advertise (e.g., online), commit resources to member education, and impose significant consequences for non-compliance.

Any new guidelines should include the use of social media (like Facebook), used by about one-third of clinics already to reach potential customers. More broadly, Federal restrictions and regulations on DTC marketing should include web-based and social media, as well as TV ads and other forms of advertising.

A version of this article was originally published in The Women’s Health Activist, the newsletter of the National Women’s Health Network, and is adapted with permission. 

Related: Our Bodies Ourselves resources on infertility and assisted reproduction

June 7, 2012

Some Vaginal Meshes for Prolapse Coming Off the Market; FDA Expresses Safety Concerns About These Devices

Earlier this week, Johnson & Johnson stated in federal court that it would no longer sell several of its vaginal mesh products. The company is being sued by hundreds of women who claim it caused them injuries. According to reports, earlier this year the FDA said the company had sold one of the implants, the Gynecare Prolift, for three years without proper regulatory approval.

Vaginal (or transvaginal) mesh has been one surgical approach to pelvic organ prolapse – when organs like the uterus or bladder may protrude into the vagina. This often has to do with weakness of the muscles and tissues that support these organs, and can cause pain, urinary incontinence, sexual issues, and other problems for women. Treatment options include Kegel exercises or other physical therapy, various types of surgery, and other approaches.

Last July, the FDA issued a safety communication on transvaginal placement of these surgical meshes for pelvic organ prolapse (POP), explicitly stating that:

  • “serious complications associated with surgical mesh for transvaginal repair of POP are not rare;” and
  • “it is not clear that transvaginal POP repair with mesh is more effective than traditional non-mesh repair in all patients with POP and it may expose patients to greater risk.”

The complications of the mesh described in that communication are quite serious:

…the most frequent complications reported to the FDA for surgical mesh devices for POP repair include mesh erosion through the vagina (also called exposure, extrusion or protrusion), pain, infection, bleeding, pain during sexual intercourse (dyspareunia), organ perforation, and urinary problems. There were also reports of recurrent prolapse, neuro-muscular problems, vaginal scarring/shrinkage, and emotional problems. Many of these complications require additional intervention, including medical or surgical treatment and hospitalization.

Despite this information, a Johnson & Johnson spokesperson, commenting on the decision to stop selling the products, claimed, “We continue to have confidence in the safety and efficacy of these products.”

Also in 2011, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Urogynecologic Society issued a joint recommendation on the procedures, stating that it should be reserved “for high-risk individuals in whom the benefit of mesh placement may justify the risk, such as individuals with recurrent prolapse.”

In January of this year, the FDA announced that it was considering changing transvaginal mesh for pelvic organ prolapse repair from a Class II to Class III device. Class III devices are those that are considered riskiest, and require specific premarket approval from the agency, supported by scientific evidence to assure that the device is safe and effective for its intended use. The FDA also ordered more than 30 manufacturers of the mesh to submit postmarket study plans to address specific safety and effectiveness concerns.

July 26, 2011

Howdy From Down Here: Colbert on Summer’s Eve and Ads for Clean Men

Have you seen the Summer’s Eve videos featuring vaginal puppeteering (by way of a talking hand) asking for more V-love? The videos promote using scented cleansing and deodorant products to freshen your vagina.

Let’s get one thing straight up front: Vaginas don’t need cover-up. In fact, douches and other scented products are more likely to cause irritation and infection. The vagina is very good at cleaning itself, so if Summer’s Eve really believed in its tagline, “Hail to the V,” it would leave our vaginas alone.

But making money off women’s insecurities about their bodies never grows old for Summer’s Eve. Its newest ads targeting black and Latina women play on racial and ethnic stereotypes in addition to playing on women’s insecurities.

So how do you point out the ridiculousness of this campaign? Imagine, as Stephen Colbert does, what would happen if men’s genitals were the focus of such advertising. Hail to our best satirists.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Vaginal Puppeteering vs. D**k Scrub
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

June 23, 2010

The Sex Drug Chronicles: Flibanserin Evidence Too Flimsy for FDA Approval

An FDA advisory panel last week unanimously recommended not to approve a new drug that purports to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) in women, which is defined as “low or no sexual interest to the point of distress in otherwise healthy people.”

According to Julia Johnson, the panel’s chairwoman and head of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the impact of the drug flibanserin (proposed trade name: Girosa), developed by the German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, was “not robust enough to justify the risks.”

Indeed, this is the point many women’s health advocates have stressed all along. The flibanserin trials were considered a success by Boehringer, but the results seem less than stellar.

In a study of 1,378 premenopausal women who had been in a monogamous relationship for 10 years on average, women were randomly assigned to take 100 mg of flibanserin or a placebo daily and to record daily whether they had sex, and whether it was satisfying. Via Time magazine:

Women in the flibanserin group self-reported 2.8 sexually satisfying events in the four-week baseline period; in the final four weeks of the 24-week study period, those women reported 4.5 sexually satisfying events, a more than 50% increase. Women in the placebo group reported an increase from 2.7 events to 3.7. The difference in effect between flibanserin and the placebo — about 0.8 sexually satisfying events — was statistically significant, the drug company said, and the side effects from the drug, which included dizziness and fatigue, among others, were mild to moderate and transient.

So women taking the drug had less than one additional “sexually satisfying event” (orgasm not required) than women taking a placebo. And in the meantime, the drug caused dizziness, nausea and fatigue, particularly with long-term daily use, in some women — hardly the recipe for sexual excitement.

The FDA also considered whether the drug had increased women’s desire — a crucial element of the HSDD diagnosis, which involves low or no sexual interest to the point of distress in people who are physically healthy and not depressed — and found that the drug failed in this area.

And that’s the trickiest part. Erectile dysfunction is treated by increasing blood flow to the penis, which leads to an erection. But for women, it’s not about being physically unable to have sex — it’s that there’s little interest in sex altogether, especially troubling when one has the same long-term partner.

The construction of this as a disorder is a classic case of “disease mongering,” according to clinical psychiatrist and researcher Leonore Tiefer. The hope for a female Viagra, one pill that will “cure” women’s sexual disease, ignores the social and historical context that has a tremendous effect on female attitudes toward sex and is often part of a larger attempt to medicalize the sex lives of women.

Time magazine’s Catherine Elton interviewed Judy Norsigian, executive director of OBOS, who outlined the concern:

Attempting to treat low libido with a pill ignores the fact that many women’s level of desire is deeply affected by everyday life stress and interpersonal relationships. Add to that a cultural milieu that at once promotes shame and ignorance about women’s sexuality while wildly inflating their expectations for sex. In many cases, says Norsigian, the proper solution to a lack of sexual desire would involve a number of non-drug approaches, such as therapy, mind-body techniques and getting partners involved in the solution.

“That could be equally successful while at the same time not exposing women to the [potential] long-term adverse effects of drugs,” says Norsigian, who suggests testing drugs like flibanserin against drug-free therapies. “Moreover, the non-medication approaches often address root causes for lack of libido and thus reflect a prevention approach that is usually much wiser.”

For similar reasons, the New View Campaign has been active in opposing flibanserin, as well as previous drugs such as Intrinsa, a testosterone patch from Procter & Gamble that failed to receive FDA approval in 2004. The Campaign provides several insightful fact sheets that explain the history and side effects of flibanserin.

Particularly revealing is the fact sheet on the marketing of flibanserin [PDF], which shows how Ogilvy Public Relations, on behalf of Boehringer, has promoted HSDD as a chief cause of women’s sexual dissatisfaction — through celebrities, celebrity sexuality experts and promotional websites. Most unsettlingly, Boehringer was able to sponsor and provide editorial input for a Discovery Channel documentary — “Understanding Female Sexual Desire: The Brain Body Connection” — which has acted, in its repeated showing on TV and the web, as an infomercial for the drug.

A better film to watch would be “Orgasm Inc.: The Strange Science of Female Pleasure,” a behind-the-scenes expose of the pharmaceutical industry’s flimsy construction of female sexual dysfunction as a curable disease and the attempt to develop and market a Viagra-type solution.

April 21, 2010

Crisis Pregnancy Centers Continue to Mislead Women, partnering with RH Reality Check and the Feminist Majority Foundation, has launched a petition campaign related to “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) – “clinics” that often advertise free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds and are set up with the intent to talk women out of choosing abortion.

The centers have often been criticized based on reports that they mislead women about the health and psychological effects of abortion and misrepresent the services they offer. The petition targets members of Congress with a request that they “support legislation that would stop CPCs’ deceptive advertising practices, require that accurate medical information is provided, and eliminate ALL federal funding for CPCs.”

In previous years, the “Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act” has been introduced in Congress. The proposed legislation would direct the Federal Trade Commission to make rules prohibiting fraudulent advertising of abortion services, but the act has not made it out of committee.

The campaign page mentions a Congressional report that found that “87% provide false and misleading information about birth control and abortion.” That statement refers to this 2006 report requested by Rep. Henry Waxman, in which 23 of 25 such centers receiving federal funds were contacted by investigators posing as pregnant 17-year-old women trying to decide whether to have an abortion. The investigators reported that the contacted centers provided “false and misleading information” about a link between abortion and breast cancer, the effect of abortion on future fertility, the effect of abortion on future fertility, and the mental health effects of abortion.

In other recent CPC news, controversy broke out over Lilith Fair’s “Choose Your Charity” campaign when it was noticed that initial charity selections included CPCs. In Austin, TX, the city council voted to require pregnancy centers that don’t offer or refer clients to abortion services or birth control services to post signs saying so to reduce confusion about what services the CPCs do and don’t offer. Elsewhere, RH Reality Check notes that the Archdiocese of Baltimore is suing the city over a similar regulation.

February 22, 2010

That Not So Fresh Feeling: A Discussion on Feminine Products and Advertising

If you’re in New York this evening, you may want to head over to the Housing Works Bookstore Café (126 Crosby St.) at 7 p.m. for a free panel discussion on “marketing embarrassing products to women.”

While that might not sound like the most appealing way to spend a Monday night, consider these three reasons to attend

Panelist #1: Sarah Haskins created, wrote and performed in the “Target Women” series on Current TV, where she spoofed advertiser’s and marketer’s ridiculous ways of selling women products, entertainment and ideas. She now writes screenplays. Funny ones.

Panelist #2: Susan Kim is a playwright, TV writer and author. She co-wrote “Flow: the Cultural Story of Menstruation” with Elissa Stein, and she has two graphic novels, “City of Spies” and “Brain Camp” (co-written with Laurence Klavan) due out from First Second Books this year. Her plays include the stage adaptation of Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club” and numerous one-acts.

Panelist #3: Allison Silverman launched “The Colbert Report” as co-head writer and later helmed the show as executive producer. She was awarded a Peabody, an Emmy for Outstanding Writing, a Writers Guild Award and three Producers Guild Awards. Her previous writing credits include “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” for which she won a Peabody and an Emmy. Silverman was recently a recipient of New York Women In Film and Television’s Muse Award.

The moderator is Hanna Rosin, co-editor of Slate’s DoubleX and contributing editor at The Atlantic Monthly.

Bonus: 100 percent of the profits at this cultural center go to Housing Works, Inc., which provides housing, healthcare, job training and advocacy for New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS. Now go with the flow.

November 12, 2009

If the Shoe Commercial Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Buy It: Reebok Ads High on Objectification, Low on Value

by Meg Young
Our Bodies Ourselves intern

Reebok recently launched a new ad campaign for its women’s “Easy Tone” sneakers that is definitely not focused on feet. The shoe’s selling point is that the sole is supposedly constructed in such a way that it works the wearer’s hamstrings, calves and glutes as she walks, resulting in “better legs and a better butt with every step.”

From watching Reebok’s ads, however, one would think that the company is promoting lingerie, not a new fitness sneaker.

reebok_adOne of the ads begins with a close-up of a woman’s breasts in a bra, then pans to her panty-clad backside before briefly flashing a picture of the sneakers. In another ad, the bra is long gone as a faceless woman stretches her body — almost naked except for underwear and sneakers — over a bed. The only thing missing is porno-groove music. Oh wait, it’s there, too.

In the only ad depicting a woman wearing clothes (short shorts and an exercise tank top), she is unable to get the cameraman to focus on her face (instead of her behind) as she presents the virtues of “Easy Tone” sneakers.

YouTube has tagged the videos as “inappropriate for some users” and requires viewers to state that they are 18 before watching.

The late-night style ads aren’t the only bizarre thing about this sneaker campaign. Jami Bernard at WalletPop points to this warning on the Reebok website : “Due to the instability of the balance pods, activities with unplanned side-to-side movement and/or any lateral-movement -sports such as tennis or basketball-should be avoided.”

A fitness sneaker that you can’t play sports in? Huh?

Reebok’s website proclaims that upon wearing the sneakers, “88% of men will be speechless. 78% of women will be jealous.”

I’m 100 percent sure I can find a better way to spend $110.

Meg Young recently graduated from high school in Middlebury, Vt., and will enroll at Tufts University in the fall of 2010 after taking a gap year.

September 7, 2009

Women & Labor: Lillian Moller Gilbreth, Peggy Olson and the Next Generation

Hope you’re all relaxing today, at least for a little bit. Here are a few articles that seem fitting in honor of Labor Day …

- At Women’s eNews, Kate Kelly describes the work of Lillian Moller Gilbreth, also known as the Mother of Modern Management, who was an industrial engineer and a pioneer in creating work environments that met the needs of the disabled. This is the first I’ve heard of Gilbreth, a mother of 12, and continued to read more about her incredible life at Webster and Wikipedia. Gilbreth’s papers are at Smith College.

- From Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz: “Last week, in a 5-1 ruling, the highest court here ruled that an Ohio law that bans discrimination against pregnant women does not protect them from punishment for taking unauthorized breaks to use a breast pump after they birth those babies. And you thought we were a trendsetter only in presidential election years.” Read on.


- “Mad Men,” my favorite TV show of the moment, offers a poignant look at the trials of women in the workplace in the early 1960s. The series is set at a growing ad agency on Madison Avenue (that’s copywriter Peggy Olson, played by Elisabeth Moss, above), and it’s full of cringe-worthy moments. Seven of the show’s nine writers are women, which Amy Chozick notes is a rarity in Hollywood television.

Joan Wickersham, who worked as a copywriter in a Boston ad agency in the 1980s, writes in the Boston Globe that “long after the 1960s, the workplace was still stuck in the same cultural blind spot satirized in ‘Mad Men.’” She shares this story of a client presenting prototypes of two computer games — the one targeted to boys involved building a railway empire; the one targeted to girls involved deciding where to put furniture in a house.

I suggested to the client that maybe the girls’ game needed a little more substance. The boys’ game was ambitious, intellectually challenging – couldn’t something similar be devised for the girls? Or maybe they didn’t need their own game. Maybe they’d be just as excited as the boys about building a railway empire. Maybe . . .

One of the men I worked with gave me a look. A look that said: “You’re being a pest, and a troublemaker. Shut up.’’

And I did.

Fast forward another 25 years, and consider Wal-Mart’s gendered back-to-school commercials, as described by Claire Mysko:

Boy version with Mom voiceover: “I can’t go to class with him. I can’t do his history report for him, or show the teachers how curious he is. That’s his job. My job is to give him everything he needs to succeed while staying within a budget…I love my job.” Cut to boy with his new affordable laptop. He’s getting applause from his teacher and the students in the class as he delivers a report.

Girl version with Mom voiceover:“I can’t go to school with her. I can’t introduce her to new friends.” Cut to girl nervously asking “Can I sit here?” to a group of girls sitting together at lunch. “Sure, I like your top!” one of them answers. “Or tell everyone how amazing she is. But I can give her what she needs to feel good about herself without breaking my budget. All she has to do is be herself.” Cut to smiling girls walking arm-in-arm down the hallway.

It appears that much work still needs to be done.

August 25, 2009

Commentary on the Marketing of Gardasil

A commentary in the current issue of the journal JAMA [abstract only] addresses Merck’s marketing of its HPV vaccine, Gardasil, and describes several ethical and public health-related problems with the company’s approach.

The authors observe that the vaccine was “promoted primarily to ‘guard’ not against HPV viruses or sexually transmitted diseases but against cervical cancer,” and provides an interesting critique of the broad approach vaccine-maker Merck used. The company’s tactic was to encourage all girls within a certain age group to be vaccinated as a cancer avoidance measure, rather than to work with public health officials to target those girls at the highest risk:

Marketing this HPV vaccine as an anticancer vaccine appears to have enabled its manufacturer to circumvent possible parental and public unease with an antidote to sexually transmitted diseases. But in doing so, the company bypassed public health officials who would have spearheaded a risk-sensitive vaccination campaign. So too, this manufacturer understandably wanted as many adolescents as possible to be vaccinated. But the pursuit of this goal was neither cost-effective nor equitable. It meant rather than concentrating on populations in geographic areas with excess cervical cancer mortality, including African Americans in the South, Latinos along the Texas-Mexico border, and whites in Appalachia, the marketing campaign posited that every girl was at equal risk: “Your daughter could become 1 less life affected by cervical cancer.”

The authors also explain how, in order to “avoid limiting the vaccine to high-risk populations, promote it for all women, and secure government reimbursement and mandates,” Merck approached professional medical associations (PMAs), and funded them to promote the vaccine. These included the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists , and the American College Health Association, according to the authors.

Funding to at least one of these organizations was used to develop a kit to guide speakers in promoting the vaccine, including the directive to encourage the audience to ask for state mandates and funding for the vaccine. Speakers were also instructed to play down sexual transmission of HPV, and the organizations were asked to report back to Merck on their promotional talks.

The authors of the commentary describe the ethical problem with this approach, and provide guidance to medical organizations:

Professional medical associations are obligated to provide members with evidence-based data so they can present relevant risks and benefits to their patients. To this end, PMAs must become more transparent about their relationships with industry, disclosing both the precise funding and technical assistance they have received to develop and disseminate the promotional products. Under no circumstances should PMAs administer product-specific speakers’ bureaus, nor should they accept funding that requires them to report activity to the donor.

A related editorial on the risks and benefits of HPV vaccination is freely available in the same issue of JAMA. In it, the author explains that while “the theory behind the vaccine is sound,” long-term follow-up is needed to determine whether there is an effect on cervical cancer incidence 20-40 years from now. The author also notes that the net benefit of the vaccine to an individual woman is currently unknown.

August 18, 2009

Debate on Banning Prescription Drug Ads

Last week, the New York Times hosted a “Room for Debate” discussion on prescription drug ads that focused on whether these ads harm consumers or serve as educational resource. Participants included medicine/public health and advertising/marketing experts, science/medicine authors, and drug company critics.

For context, check out this ad for a drug for restless leg syndrome:

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Notice the warning about how the medication can cause “new or increased gambling, sexual, or other increased urges”? Really makes you want to try the drug, huh?

Also check out this ad for “Latisse,” a prescription drug for “eyelash hypotrichosis,” which is… get this… when you think your eyelashes are too thin and light.  The product, advertised in medical-sounding language, attempts to convince women that this is a real defect that requires prescription therapy.
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A recent Times piece on these ads calls this “inadequacy mongering.”

The “Room for Debate” article notes that some lawmakers would like to further regulate direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads, especially when drugs have been newly released. According to a follow-up article on the initial debate, many NY Times readers agree: “Of the more than 300 comments the forum generated … the overwhelming majority would like to see these ads altered or banned altogether.” The article includes excerpts of the relevant reader comments.

For further reading, check out this earlier post on the topic of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising.

August 17, 2009

Double Dose, Part 1: Poll – Pro-Life Majority a Fluke?; Drug Prescriptions, Personal Data for Sale; Individual Insurance Market Full of Loopholes …

A bit of catching up to do …

About That Pro-Life Majority …: Amy Sullivan always thought the Gallup poll released in May that showed, for the first time, a majority of Americans describing themselves as “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice,” was a fluke. And she was right:

My skeptical interpretation of the poll didn’t turn out to be terribly popular. The idea that just a few months after the election of a pro-choice president, Americans were racing to embrace the pro-life cause was too tempting a storyline. The poll made headlines everywhere, and we ran an essay on it anyway.

Now along comes a follow-up poll from Gallup and whaddya know, the much ballyhooed pro-life majority seems to have disappeared. The percentages of Americans calling themselves “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are essentially the same (47% for pro-life; 46% for pro-choice). Meanwhile, the positions they hold — a more useful indicator than the labels people choose for themselves — haven’t budged. A solid 78% think abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances.

Gallup Poll

Think Prescriptions Are Private? Think Again: After buying fertility drugs at a pharmacy in San Diego, a woman started receiving coupons and samples in the mail — for everything from diapers and baby formula to gifts for an elementary school graduate — for a child she did not have. Milt Freudenheim writes that your prescription information — including your and Social Security number — is “a commodity bought and sold in a murky marketplace, often without the patients’ knowledge or permission.”

But protections might be strengthened under federal law:

The federal stimulus law enacted in February prohibits in most cases the sale of personal health information, with a few exceptions for research and public health measures like tracking flu epidemics. It also tightens rules for telling patients when hackers or health care workers have stolen their Social Security numbers or medical information, as happened to Britney Spears, Maria Shriver and Farrah Fawcett before she died in June.

“The new rules will plug some gaping holes in our federal health privacy laws,” said Deven McGraw, a health privacy expert at the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington. “For the first time, pharmacy benefit managers that handle most prescriptions and banks and contractors that process millions of medical claims will be held accountable for complying with federal privacy and security rules.”

The law won’t shut down the medical data mining industry, but there will be more restrictions on using private information without patients’ consent and penalties for civil violations will be increased. Government agencies are still writing new regulations called for in the law.

New Blog: The Global Fund for Women has a new blog: Read about reflections on gender and power; a feminist look at the financial crisis; and tips from Dolores Huerta on keeping activism alive.

Egg-As-Person Crusade Draws Big Money: “In just five short years, the primary movers and shakers in the absolutist anti-abortion/anti-choice movement seeking to promote the ‘personhood’ of zygotes (the single cell that forms after a sperm fertilizes an egg) have amassed nearly $58 million in tax-deductible contributions for their cause,” writes Wendy Norris at RH Reality Check. Norris profiles five organizations that have raised the most money.

Plus: “A Vermont woman whose 6-month-old twin fetuses died after a car crashed into the family van wants them to be legally recognized as children, which is not the case under current state law,” reports the AP.

Why LeRoy Carhart Won’t Stop Doing Abortions: Newsweek profiles Omaha physician LeRoy Carhart, one of three abortion doctors who took turns assisting at the clinic of George Tiller, the Kansas doctor who was murdered in May. Sarah Kliff writes:

Carhart knows there are people who want him dead, too. A few days after Tiller’s murder, Carhart’s daughter received a late-night phone call saying her parents too had been killed. His clinic got suspicious letters, one with white powder. It’s been like this since Carhart started performing abortions in the late 1980s. On the same day Nebraska passed a parental-notification law in 1991, his farm burned down, killing 17 horses, a cat, and a dog (the local fire department was unable to determine the fire’s cause). The next day his clinic received a letter justifying the murder of abortion providers. His clinic’s sidewalks have been smeared with manure. Protesters sometimes stalk him in airports. The threats, the violence, now the assassination of his close friend — all of it has left Carhart undaunted, and the billboard-size sign over his parking garage still reads, in foot-high block letters, ABORTION & CONTRACEPTION CLINIC OF NEBRASKA. “They’re at war with us,” says Carhart of the anti-abortion activist who killed Tiller. “We have to realize this isn’t a difference of opinions. We need to fight back.”

Health Insurance Fail: Sarah Wildman’s daughter cost more than $22,000. Not because of fertility treatments, or adoption. And yes, she and her partner have insurance, which they obtained on the individual market:

Our insurer, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, sold us exactly the type of flawed policy— riddled with holes and exceptions — that the health care reform bills in Congress should try to do away with. The “maternity” coverage we purchased didn’t cover my labor, delivery, or hospital stay. It was a sham. And so we spent the first months of her life getting the kind of hospital bills and increasingly aggressive calls from hospital administrators that I once believed were only possible without insurance.

Wildman continues:

Last fall, the National Women’s Law Center issued a report detailing exactly how women who want to bear children are derailed when searching for out-of-pocket health care. Only 14 states require maternity coverage to be included in insurance sold on the individual market, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. In contrast, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 requires employers with more than 15 employees to include maternity benefits in their health insurance packages. “We looked at 3,500 individual insurance policies and only 12 percent included comprehensive maternity coverage,” said Lisa Codispoti, Senior Advisor at the National Women’s Law Center. Another 20 percent offered a rider that was astronomically expensive or skimpy or both. One charged $1,100 a month; others required a two-year waiting period.

Continue reading at Double X.

Gene Mutation That Affects Hair Color Linked to Greater Pain Sensitivity: “A growing body of research shows that people with red hair need larger doses of anesthesia and often are resistant to local pain blockers like Novocaine,” reports The New York Times. The story goes on to note that the mutation in the MC1R gene also occurs in people with brown hair, though it is less common. I think I’m one of ‘em.

July 8, 2009

One Easy Way to Be Beautiful (Just the Way You Are)

Picture this: You walk up to a magazine rack at your favorite bookstore and you’re confronted with numerous self-improvement suggestions: “10 Easy Ways to Lose Weight” … “Exercises to Get a Bikini Body” … “Fashion Tips to Look More Like [Someone Else] … OK, you’ve been here before. You know exactly what this looks like.

Now imagine that instead of walking away frustrated, you reach into your Super Activist Bag and pull out a new, empowering cover — it rereads: “BEAUTIFUL just the way you are.”

You slip it in front of one of the make-over-you magazines and walk away, satisfied for having spread a new message.

This newly launched “art action” is more than a good story. It’s the brainchild of Massachusetts artist Lillian Hsu, who created the website to protest the objectification of girls and women — and to do something about it.

Beautiful Just The Way You Are

Hsu encourages placing one of the BJTWYA posters “over every stack of magazines that uses the female body to sell something — to sell the magazine, or to sell an article, or to sell a product, or to sell a lifestyle, or to sell a promise, or to sell the idea that you need to match your body to the picture. You decide which covers qualify. You place a poster over them. Then you walk away. That’s it.”

All you need to participate is a supply of posters, which you can get by emailing “bjtwya AT yahoo DOT com” with your name, mailing address, contact information, and number of posters needed. The posters are printed on 8.5×11″ paper, heavy enough to stand up on a magazine rack.

If you have a color printer or can’t wait for delivery, print your own copies of the poster (PDF).

Either way, be sure to visit to learn more about how Hsu came up with the art action. You’ll also find links to organizations and activists that address media and body image issues. And if you’re anywhere near Gloucester, Mass., an exhibition related to Beautiful Just The Way You Are is at the Jane Deering Gallery through Aug. 3. The opening reception is this Thursday, July 9, 6-8 p.m.

Here’s an excerpt from Hsu’s smartly worded and compelling statement:

The magazine rack is only one of many locations where we are taught the lessons of our culture, but it is one that is ubiquitous throughout our towns and cities and reaches every stratum of the population. At the magazine rack words and pictures work together seamlessly, like a good children’s book, to teach and tell a story of who we are. The covers shout their messages with surprising confidence that we will know these commands are for us. Before we are ten, and then without pause throughout our lives, we internalize the lesson that our bodies are how we will be first judged as individuals, and that there is a body type that we must attain to be judged worthy of attention. We learn that the female body can be used to sell anything — tangible or intangible — to women, men, and children. The use of a motorcycle, a deodorant, a vacation, a necktie, or a beverage implies ownership of the woman’s body pasted into the advertisement. Although all humans are born with beauty and power, our early unquestioned self is quickly corrupted. We adopt an anxiety in navigating a path towards a culturally dictated state of beauty and power.

BEAUTIFUL Just The Way You Are seeks to intervene in the space between all who stand before the magazine rack and the engine of advertising and mass culture. In that space of daily life it places an alternative.