Friday, May 7, 2010

The Candie’s Foundation, Brittney, And Bristol: Sending The Wrong Message About Teen Pregnancy - Sue D'Onymous


Unwanted pregnancy is a huge burden, not only on the individuals but on society as well. This is especially pressing for the United States, as it has the highest teen pregnancy rates of all similarly situated countries (1). This rate is ten times more than Japan and almost double the rate of Great Britain (1). The vast majority of these pregnancies, roughly 85% of them, are unintended and not planned (2). Teen pregnancy spiked in the 1980’s and has decreased over the 1990’s (2). The teen pregnancy rate has continued to decrease throughout the 2000’s, until 2006 (3). In 2005 there were around 70 pregnancies per 1000 female teenagers, but in 2006, the rates realized a 3% increase (3). Further, from 2005-2007, the rate increased 5% (4). Experts attribute this change in pregnancy rates to an increase in sexual activity and a decrease in the use of contraceptives (4). Additional factors that might be contributory is a change in attitude towards the risks of contracting HIV/AIDS (4). Showing a marked change in attitude, only 6% of 18-29 year olds, in 2007, believe that HIV/AIDS is the most pressing health concern, whereas in 1995 44% of respondents marked this as the most pressing health problem (4). Other factors that might contribute include a refocus on abstinence-only education, lack of education on contraceptives and lack of access to contraceptives, interventions largely focusing on younger teens (where, there has been an increase in birth rates for older teens), and the cultural attitudes that Americans have adopted (4).

This last part, the change in social norms and the societal attitude towards sex and pregnancy is very interesting. In an article put out by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies, they speak out about how recent celebrity teen pregnancies have been almost lauded (4). The article states, “…the high-profile teen pregnancies of Bristol Palin and Jamie Lynn Spears were largely greeted as the latest in a long line of celebrity baby bumps. Perhaps such trends and factors help shape the social script for teens, suggesting that getting pregnant and starting a family in the teen years as a single teen who may not have even finished high school is simply not that big a deal.” (4).

This bring me to discuss the Candie’s Foundation campaign. This campaign is currently being headed up by Bristol Palin. For those not aware of her status, she is a single mom, daughter of Sarah Palin. Bristol’s pregnancy was announced shortly after her mother was nominated to be John McCain’s vice presidential running mate.

It helps to understand who Candie’s is and what they do. Candie’s is a brand of popular teenage clothing, shoes, and undergarments. They have had many different famous faces for their clothing advertisements. Recently Hayden Panettiere was the face of Candie’s, but the current poster-woman is none other than Brittney Spears (5) Without going further into it, as it is not the focus of this paper, is it interesting to note that the advertisements and their current website are obviously using the core value of sex to sell their products. What is ironic is that the Candie’s Foundation’s sole purpose is trying to promote the reduction of teen pregnancies, something intimately (no pun intended) tied to sex. In a recent editorial in the New York Times, Gail Collins draws this same conclusion, “Palin is not in any way to be confused with the new Candie’s brand spokesperson, Britney Spears. Bristol is the one endorsing abstinence; Britney is the one promoting ‘hot bottoms.’” (6) Now, let us turn to a critique of the Candie’s Foundation media campaign to reduce teen pregnancy.

Critique 1: Who is your spokesperson? Don’t pick someone who sends the wrong message or waffles.

Originally, Bristol Palin spoke out against abstinence-only education to prevent teens becoming sexually active. Lately, she’s switched teams, saying “I just want to go out there and promote abstinence and say this is the safest choice.” (6) She was also quoted saying, "Regardless of what I did personally, I just think that abstinence is the only ... 100 percent foolproof way to prevent pregnancy." (7) So which is it Bristol? Is abstinence unrealistic or not? Please clarify. Where you have a spokesperson who waffles, it sends a confusing message and conjures questions of if this person is being paid to state what the organization backing them wants them to state. This completely undermines the credibility of the spokesperson.

Also, the current video ad on their website is not something that most teens can relate to. For an intervention to be effective, people must be able to relate to it. How many teens who are at risk for pregnancy can relate to Bristol? She comes from a supportive family, a wealthy family, and because of her pregnancy she has received a lot of recognition, including being asked to be the face of this campaign.

The video she stars in, with her son, starts out with her all dressed up. She then says, “What if I didn’t come from a famous family? What if I didn’t have all their support? What if I didn’t have all these opportunities? Believe me it would be pretty….Pause, before you play.” As she’s speaking, she loses her dressed up look and the furnishings in the room. In the end, she is in a room with just her son, a crib, a couch and she is dressed in plain jeans and a t-shirt. Is she implying that if your parents are supportive and have money, it’s a joy-ride having a kid? So, maybe only poor people or others with unsupportive families shouldn’t get pregnant as a teen. Perhaps that’s not the intended message, but it’s certainly what comes across. Most of American teens simply can’t relate to what she’s going through. Her family is famous and wealthy, so Bristol doesn’t come across to many teens as someone they can relate to. If a teen can’t relate, why would they listen the message?

Social Expectation Theory would teach us that this promotion and exaltation of being a single mom, in Bristol’s case, reinforces a social norm that it’s ok to get pregnant, perhaps even something cool (8). Babies are the new “thing to have” instead of a purse or pair of shoes. Everyone who is anyone has one, including Bristol Palin (and Jamie Lynn Spears). Using a success story as your poster child undermines changing the societal view of teen pregnancy. Bristol Palin has had relatively few consequences of being a single mom. She graduated from high school and has a supportive family to help her through the tough times. Yes, she may stay up at night with her son and be changing stinky diapers, but she’s far from being destitute and she isn’t facing a tough decision between having the child, giving it up for adoption, or having an abortion. These are real choices that the vast majority of teens who become pregnant deal with and struggle with. Having a little rich girl tell them, perhaps condescendingly, that without her wonderful silver-spoon life, “it wouldn’t be pretty” doesn’t speak to the vast majority of teens, who don’t have the privileged life that Bristol is lucky to have. Holding someone like Bristol Palin on a pedestal is not the way to change societal norms and views about teen pregnancy.

Critique 2: Make a campaign that will reach different groups, not just white teens.

Young teens who are Hispanic and African American are the most at-risk groups for teen pregnancy (9). As a group, white teenage females roughly 20% will get pregnant before they are twenty years of age (9). In comparison, about 51% of Black teens will become pregnant before their twentieth birthday (9). Similarly, 53% of Hispanic teens will conceive a child prior to turning twenty (9). These are alarmingly different figures, yet if you look at the Candie’s Foundation Campaign to reduce teenage pregnancies, the ads are far more appealing to white teens.

Perhaps Malia and Sasha Obama can relate to Bristol Palin, since their family is similarly situated: wealthy, in the political spotlight, etc. While Bristol’s particular ad isn’t one that many teens can relate to, the Candie’s campaign in general may not be something that a young Black or Latina teen can relate to. Candie’s does have two token minority celebrities in the campaign. Ciara has both a print spot and a video spot and Vanessa Mannillo has one print spot. Ciara is featured in one out of four videos and one out of eight print advertisements. While I commend Candie’s for including these two women in the campaign, there are many minorities that aren’t represented, for instance, Latinas have no celebrity representation.

Where minorities are the most at-risk groups, an effective campaign to reduce teen pregnancies should be more focused on these groups. I could speculate if this was intentional, but this certainly hints to institutionalized racism. This may not have been a conscious decision, but it represents the systematic difference in how a public health problem is approached (10): with a prominent focus on whites. Although the majority of the population is white, there is a disproportionality of the teen pregnancies in the minority populations and interventions and campaigns must take this into account in order to be successful.

Critique 3: Societal Intervention Should be the Focus, Not Individual

Marketing Theory and Advertising Theory are very poignant examples of how behavior can be changed on the group level. These two theories operate by finding out what the target audience wants out of life, then packages its product to sell them their hopes, dreams, desires, needs and wants (11). Looking at just the Bristol Palin video, it’s difficult to figure out what the campaign is selling; in strong advertising campaigns, you know exactly what they are selling and I’m not referring to the product. Each campaign sells a “core value” – something that the target audience wants. It could be power, wealth, attractiveness, sex, etc. Candie’s gets this process. All you have to do is look at their new advertisements featuring Brittney Spears and you’ll know that it’s “sex” that the brand is selling, not clothes, shoes, or underwear. In fact, Candie’s has come under fire for this, according to the New York Times (6) and shortly after it, The Candie’s Foundation was established. If I were Neil Cole, head of Iconix (which owns Candie’s) and really wanted to run an effective campaign against teen pregnancy, I would use “sex” as the core value in the prevention advertisements. (This will be discussed in a subsequent section.)

There are a lot of other elements of marketing and advertising theory put into practice in this campaign, but they seem to miss the heart of effective advertising and marketing: selling a strong core value that appeals to your target demographic. What is positive is that they use branding with a slogan of “pause before you play” and they use a catch color scheme of black and hot pink. The images draw you in, too. These are all great things, but if you don’t have a solid core value or promise to sell, no teen will buy into it.

Additionally, if you look at Social Expectations Theory you want to change the social norms and this is done on a group-level, not an individual-level (8). This campaign targets the teens themselves. This is not necessarily a bad thing; any successful campaign should target the teen demographics in particular. That being said, teens are not the only audience to target. To fully change societal norms, you need to target the media and, most importantly, the entertainment industry.

The entertainment industry’s norms and portrayal of (and acceptance of, perhaps for the sake of drama,) sex and teen pregnancy needs to be changed if you want societal norms to change. If sex is portrayed as a right of passage or a normal activity that everyone is participating in, who would wait to have sex and miss out on sowing their wild oats? Even if you just wanted to peddle the societal norm of using prophylactics each and every time you have sex, then this needs to be portrayed in movies, on the television, and through effective advertisement campaigns.

If you look at practically any mainstream show on television that teens watch, everyone is having sex and protection/contraception is not necessarily tied to that activity: Gossip Girl, Private Practice, Ugly Betty, etc. All the popular and cool characters are having sex and not necessarily in a discriminate approach to the activity. In a recent episode of Gray’s Anatomy, one of the characters discussed with another character that the third date is the “sex” date, especially if your date cooks you dinner. In almost all mainstream entertainment shows, (Desperate Housewives, Grays Anatomy, Gossip Girl, to name a few) there are multiple characters that have sex on the first date (sometimes there isn’t even a date) or if they are trying to be “good” they might wait for the third or fourth date. I have never seen a show where there is a character who wants to wait for sex (and these are very few) and doesn’t end up caving (i.e. the character of Joey Potter on Dawson’s Creek, or the Character of Grace Bowman on Secret Life of the American Teenager). This is the social norm we much change and we should change it to the message that: not everyone is having sex, those who do only enter into it with seriousness, and those who do always use contraception and protection.

Proposed Alteration to this Campaign

The Candie’s Foundation campaign does have some very good attributes. As discussed before, the branding of the website and the advertisements is done well. It also has tank tops that support the cause and help with branding, that say: “I’m SEXY enough to keep you waiting…”, “Be SEXY. It doesn’t mean you have to have sex.” Additionally, the color and the lay-out of the website is eye-catching, in black and hot pink.

Some of the messages and print ads are purposeful and might be effective and influential. For instance, there are several print ads where you see a celebrity’s face on one page and on the other pages is a baby stroller with the caption “Not what you had in mind for your first set of wheels, huh?” Other print ads have a similar format, but depict a baby bottle with the caption, “You think being in school sucks?” Last, there are ads that have a baby’s crib with the caption, “Not really what you pictured for your first crib, huh?” I think these tie in nicely with the campaign’s key tag-line, “Pause, before you play.” These all send the message to think about the consequences of having sex.

That being said, the messages are negatively depicting parenthood and having a child. There is a better way to go about this. The core values that this campaign should be reframed to “sell” are the core values of either independence/freedom or sex. It’s obvious by the number of teen pregnancies that many American teens are interested in sex, so why not repackage it and sell it in a way that makes sense? Why not package it along with freedom and independence, which are two core values that appeal to teens?

Instead of focusing on the consequences of pregnancy, this campaign could focus on how being smart about sex, by either waiting or using contraceptives, teens are empowered and provided with independence and freedom. For instance, instead of just having the baby crib, the campaign could show two “cribs”: one baby crib, and one nice apartment with young, college kids enjoying a dinner party. Perhaps, the new tag-line should be something like, “What do you want your first crib to look like?” Then, instead of only focusing on the consequences, you can “sell” the teens the alternative of living a fun life in college or as a young professional without a baby. The same goes for the baby carriage; the carriage could be opposite a picture of a teen purchasing his or her first car (or receiving the keys to the car). Also, the tag-line that runs with these advertisements could be, “What do you want for your first set of wheels?” These ads wouldn’t totally focus on the consequences, but would remind teens that this is a choice and that they are the ones who control the choice between being a teen father/mother or having independence in their young life.

Additionally, while refocusing the messages could solve part of the problem with this campaign, it really needs to select someone who is an appropriate spokesperson. The spokesperson should be someone who is believable, likeable, and to whom teens can relate. Perhaps they could bring on teen mothers who don’t have the support of their families, who aren’t wealthy, and who live with very tough choices each day; this might be especially effective if they couple it with those mothers promoting a message that while having a child can be wonderful, it’s not something that should happen in your teens year and not until you are ready (financially, emotional, etc.).

Alternatively, they don’t need to have just one spokesperson and these people don’t need to be single parents. I think selecting celebrities who have been responsible and who, themselves, haven’t participated in shows/music videos/etc. that feed into the “everyone is having sex” mentality. Celebrities such as Hayden Panettiere, Alicia Keys, Hilary Duff, etc. fit the criteria. I’m sure there are many others out there who also could be great spokespersons.

There are two other issues that Candie’s needs to consider when choosing spokers persons: First, that there should be more representation of minorities, since minorities are disproportionately at risk for teen pregnancy. Second, for the Candie’s Foundation campaign to be successful, they cannot undo their work by using a poster-child for promiscuity and/or bad decisions.

Reaching out to celebrities or other spokespersons of color is key to run an effective campaign. Teens of color must have something in the campaign that they can relate to, in order to boost efficacy. Starting with Alicia Keys, Raven Symone, or America Ferrera would be a great starting point for respectable stars who set a great example (or at least stay out of the tabloids) for teens. Alicia Keys would be great especially since she started her career in music so young. Having her in the campaign can talk about how her success wouldn’t have been possible if she had gotten pregnant. This provides teens with a positive role model to whom they can relate and shows the positive side of waiting or using effective contraception: they too can achieve their goals and become successful. Also, Raven Symone is a fabulous role model for young girls. She is young, successful and has been acting since she was very young. She has appeared in many teen roles, including her own show “That’s So Raven.” Her continued success can be tied in with positive, affirmative messages for teens to make responsible, good choices. Additionally, America Ferrera has been acting since she was young. She could use this platform to encourage kids to pursue their dreams and not compromise by making a bad or risky decision. More spokespersons of color should be added, whether famous or not.

As previously stated, if the Candie’s Foundation wants to run a successful campaign, it cannot use a poster-child for promiscuity and/or bad decisions in its advertising. If the Candie’s company uses, for instance their current spokeswomen, Brittany Spears for as the face of their clothing line, what message does that send to teens? Teens are probably more likely to see a Candie’s campaign before they see the Foundation’s ads. Candie’s is a brand and it should be a united front between the Foundation and the apparel line: both should promote strong women who make good life choices and aren’t the subject of tabloid fodder. Brittany Spears is no role model for a teenage girl. Alternatively, Candie’s should be applauded for bringing on Hayden Panettiere and should bring in more women like her. They should strive to bring in celebrities with a positive image and should also bring in more celebrities of color to be the cover of the apparel line. Any of the beautiful women of color mentioned in the previous paragraph would be excellent choices.

To address the last issue of societal norm changing, the Candie’s Foundation campaign should not just target teens. It should put social pressures on the entertainment industry to provide decent entertainment which would include more characters who either wait to have sex and/or use contraception properly (and every time they have sex). Both television and movies can change societal norms because they reach the vast majority of Americans, many of them on a daily basis. The Foundation should lobby for less focus on sex as a story-line and if there is a sex story-line, that it is one that doesn’t promote an “everybody is doing it” and/or “everyone has sex on the first, second or third date” mentality. Teens need positive role models and reinforcement of and support for the courageous decision to either wait on sex or demand that contraception be used.

Candie’s could put together a consistent message through coupling the Foundation’s brand with the apparel brand. They should include more persons of color as representatives and role models and should focus their messages on empowerment, rather than consequences. That would be a good start. To really be most effective, they must put pressure on society to change our norms and acceptance of teens having sex so young and/or without proper contraceptive means. Only then will we see a larger and prominent change.


  1. Kaiser Family Foundation, National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy: The More You Know About Teen Pregnancy, found at, last accessed on 4/16/10
  2. American Medical Student Association, 1998-99 National Initiative on Teenage Pregnancy, found at, last accessed on 4/16/10
  3. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies, Teen Pregnancies in the United States, 1988-2006. Also found at, last accessed on 4/16/10.
  4. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies, Why are the Teen Pregnancy and Birth Rates Increasing?, January, 2010. Also found at
  5. See,
  6. New York Times, Bristol Palin’s New Gig, May, 2009. Also found at,, last accessed on 4/16/10
  7. ABC, Good Morning America, Teen Mom Bristol Palin: The New Fact of Abstinence, May, 2009. Also found at:, last accessed on 4/16/10
  8. For discussion of Social Expectation Theory and how media works to pass on social norms. DeFleur ML, Ball-Rokeach SJ. Theories of Mass Communication (5th edition), Chapter 8 (Socialization and Theories of Indirect Influence), pp. 202-227. White Plains, NY: Longman Inc., 1989).
  9. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies, Policy Brief: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Teen Pregnancies, 2008. Also found at, last accessed on 4/16/10.
  10. Jones, CP. Levels of racism: A theoretical framework and a gardener’s tale. American Journal of Public Health 2000; 90:1212-1215.
  11. How to build great campaigns (Chapter 5). In: Ogilvy D., Confessions of an Advertising Man. New York: Antheneum, 1964, pp. 89-103.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home