Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Candie’s Foundation Campaign: A Flawed Approach – Sarah K. Clark


Established in 2001, the Candie’s Foundation aims to educate teens about the devastating consequences of teenage pregnancy by promoting abstinence. All of the advertisements use celebrities and attempt to speak to teens on their own terms, with the hopes of influencing teen culture. Print advertisements have been placed in Seventeen, Vibe, The Source, Blender, Teen Vogue, J14, Elle, InStyle, and Cosmopolitan. Broadcast commercials have aired on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, ABC, and MTV. Candie’s has also made an appearance on a variety of websites, including AOL, MTV, The-N,,, Black Planet, and perezhilton. The Candie’s Foundation has had more than 500 million media impressions in all major teen media outlets, but have they been effective? The following sections aim to prove that the campaign is greatly flawed and does not follow current public health theories, models and research.

Critique # 1: The Behavior Change Model/Theory

The first mistake made by the Candie’s Foundation is the use of the Health Belief Model to predict and influence their target audience’s behavior. The Health Belief Model is one of many rational belief models that assume human behavior is determined by an objective, logical thought process. It proposes that the likelihood that a person will take action concerning a health condition is determined by the person’s readiness to take action and by the perceived benefits of action weighed against the perceived costs or barriers (1). In the case of the Candie’s campaign, they hope to influence their target audience to rationally weigh the costs and benefits of having sex, ultimately deciding to choose abstinence.
Using this model, the individual must first determine how susceptible they are to getting pregnant. Since action will only occur if the individual believes they are highly susceptible, the Candie’s Foundation uses statistics such as, “more than 750,000 girls will become pregnant this year” and “more than 2,000 girls become pregnant each day”. Their hope is that by using large numbers, individuals will see themselves as being high risk.
Next, they want their audience to look at the severity of being a teen parent and how it would negatively impact their life. To demonstrate the severity, they show before and after images exemplifying how life as a teenager would change the minute one becomes a parent. In the new Bristol Palin commercial, they first show her nicely dressed, wearing pearls and in a well decorated, comfortable home. To demonstrate how life will change as a teen parent, they shift to a barren room, a disheveled looking Bristol Palin and the new baby playing on the floor. In the Teddy Geiger commercial, a brand new car transforms into a stroller, saying, “Not exactly what you had in mind for your first set of wheels, huh”. In another commercial with Ciara, a girl’s luxurious bedroom falls apart around her and becomes a baby’s crib after she partakes in sexual intercourse. Ciara then says, “Not really the way you pictured your first crib, huh”. The Candie’s Foundation wants the audience to perceive the results of becoming a teen parent as very severe and life altering.
According to the Health Belief Model, after determining susceptibility and severity, one determines the benefits of not having sex and then weighs these against the costs. This, however, is another area where the Candie’s campaign fails. It does not acknowledge the positive aspects of having sex or what one will lose by choosing abstinence. In a sense, it does not provide any costs, thus suggesting that abstinence should be a quick, no brainer decision. On the other hand, the campaign still suggests that the audience should make a rational weigh of costs and benefits, with the tagline, “pause before you play”. Ultimately, the idea is that if there is an intention to “pause”, it will lead to the desired behavior, abstinence.
There are a number of flaws in the Health Belief Model in general and in its use for the Candie’s campaign. For one, the Health Belief Model assumes that people always think rationally. This model “focuses on rational, intentional behavior and does not take into account the spontaneous activity that characterizes much of human behavior” (1). In the Candie’s campaign, it assumes people will weigh the costs and benefits of not having sex and then make the rational decision to “pause”. Humans, however, are not rational beings. Although a person may intend to do something, behavior does not always occur as planned, largely because of visceral and social influences. When it comes to abstinence, visceral influences may include the pleasure of sex, while social influences may include pressures from a significant other or feelings of embarrassment by saying “no”.
The absence of context is a large flaw of the Health Belief Model. Rosenthal stated that decision-making models, like the Health Belief Model, do not capture the essence of sexual risk-taking and that these behaviors need to be contextualized (2). This idea that we often forget about context and overestimate an individual’s knowledge and character has also been called the Fundamental Attribution Error. In addition, Thomas argues that the Health Belief Model views people as a collective group, depriving people of value and contextual meanings which are embedded in cultural practices, skills and languages. The model also lacks regard for sociopolitical and historical experiences (3). In terms of abstinence, this just shows that there are many variables that go into the decision of whether or not to have sex. The decision is not black or white, nor is it as easy as “pausing before you play”.
Finally, the last limitation of this model is the assumption that health is highly valued by most people and that when a “cue” about health occurs, individuals will likely act in a manner favorable to their health (1). In reality, other outcomes besides health may hold higher importance. In the field of public health, many people eat unhealthy foods because they enjoy the taste, despite that they know it is bad for them. In the case of sex, many teenagers partake in behaviors that they know are not in their best interest because of the pleasure, social acceptance or the emotions that come along with the physical action of having sex.

Critique #2: The Messages

A second error made by the Candie’s Foundation, is that the campaign uses negative statistics to tell their audience what not to do. On the print advertisements and television commercials, such statistics include, “more than 750,000 teenage girls will become pregnant this year”, “raising a baby can cost over $10,000 a year” and “almost every 2 hours for feeding time…if you choose to use formula, you’re looking at about $1,500 a year”. On the “Cry. Baby.” iPhone application, these include, “750,000 teen girls in America get pregnant each year – that’s more than 2,000 a day!”, “fewer than half of teen girls finish high school” and “the vast majority of teen parent couples don’t end up married – or even together!” These statements, although educating adolescents on the harsh realities of being a parent, do not connect with the audience on a more personal level. Instead, statistics are used to invoke fear appeals with the hopes of scaring adolescents away from having sex at a young age.
This strategy, although used by many public health professionals, is not effective. Evans and Hastings state, “One way that public health brands have in the past diluted themselves and lost trust is by delivering negative messages or invoking fear appeals about risky behaviors” (4). Most importantly, relying on negative statistics to elicit fear does not take optimistic bias into consideration. Weinstein (1980) describes optimistic bias as the idea that individuals rate the likelihood of an event happening compared to their peers, and thus believe that they are more likely to experience positive events and less likely to experience negative ones (5). Although the hope is that by using negative statistics and fear appeals, adolescents will decide to stay abstinent, in reality this will most likely lead to the thought, “a lot of teens get pregnant, but it won’t happen to me”. Instead of worrying that they are susceptible to an illness, or in this case may become pregnant, adolescents believe that they are somehow immune to an inclusion in the statistic. This optimistic bias or “perceived invulnerability” may result from distortions in assessing risk to self, a biased view of risk to others, or both (5).
In addition to the use of negative statistics, the campaign instructs the audience about what not to do. The message is clear, do not have sex or you may become pregnant. The campaign does not offer an alternative, just choose abstinence, period. This is evident from the print advertisements that state “sex can change everything”, to the branded t-shirts that state, “I’m sexy enough…to keep you waiting”. Other messages state, “be smart: you are too young to start” and “be sexy: it doesn’t mean you have to have sex”. The print advertisements state that the Candie’s Foundation is “providing information about the devastating consequences of teen pregnancy”, but when an interested viewer goes to the website for more information, and clicks on “learn”, they are just hit with a long list of facts and statistics. Like many other campaigns, the Candie’s Foundation spends so much time reiterating the “no sex” message that it fails to consider the perceived benefits of the behavior they are competing against – sex. The campaign does not offer any alternative behaviors, such as practicing safe sex with condoms or birth control, but instead attempts to elicit fear with an array of negative messages and statistics.

Critique #3: The Communicators

One of the most visible flaws in the Candie’s campaign is shown in who is delivering the message. All of the elements of the campaign appear to be directed towards the average teenage female. This is evident from everything including the hot pink/black look and feel, to the “Be Sexy” t-shirts, and all of the messages, images and statistics which aim to show what life is like as a teen mother. However, all of the commercials and print advertisements portray celebrities, most of which are no longer teenagers, only one which was pregnant as a teenager and a few that are even male. Celebrities include, Hayden Panettiere, Beyoncé, Fergie, Fall Out Boy, Ciara, Jenny McCarthy, Vanessa Minnillo, Ashley Tisdale, Hilary Duff, Ashlee Simpson, Usher, Rachel Bilson, and Teddy Geiger. These individuals live nothing like the audience they are speaking to and do not have any experience of what it is like to struggle as a teenage parent. They are speaking about something in which they have little to no knowledge and yet the Candie’s Foundation expects their target audience to listen. This choice in spokespeople contradicts social science theory which states that individuals have the best response to messages when they are delivered by people who are similar to them. Although celebrities may provide a recognizable face, the Candie’s Foundation did not choose their spokespeople appropriately if they wish to have their target audience respond favorably to the message.
One result that can occur from using a source that is so different than the target audience is psychological reactance. This theory, developed by Brehm and Brehm (1981), states that people believe they possess specific behavioral and cognitive freedoms and if those freedoms are threatened or eliminated, people experience psychological reactance, or the perception that the threatened behaviors or thoughts are more attractive and a desire to reestablish them (6). Silvia (2005, 2006a), who focused on the mechanics of threat, found interpersonal similarity between the communicator and target as a factor that mediates or even removes the effects of threat (and thus reactance). Similarly, when the person perceiving the threat is different from the person making the threat, reactance is more likely to occur (7).
Since advertisements are already intrusive by nature, it is important that the audience perceive the content within the advertisement as valuable. Only if the target audience perceives the content as valuable, will it be possible to keep their attention and increase the chances that they will retain the message. The less irritation and avoidance an advertisement elicits, the more value it will have. Ducoffe’s studies indicate that both information and entertainment are essential for communication exchanges between advertisers and consumers (8). Knowing that the Candie’s Foundation campaign interrupts regular viewing of television and print content, they should be making up for this interference with a spokesperson that the viewer can identify with and information that will be perceived as useful. Unfortunately, the Candie’s Foundation fails on both accounts and so has a strong chance of eliciting psychological reactance.

Intervention #1: The Behavior Change Model/Theory

The Health Belief Model, currently used by the Candie’s Foundation to influence behavior change, is flawed and outdated. This model assumes that people make rational decisions, plan their behavior in advance and operate only as individuals, without any influence from the outside world. In the Candie’s campaign, elements of susceptibility and severity are used to prove that the benefits of abstinence (not becoming a teen parent) outweigh the costs. The current campaign follows a traditional public health paradigm and attempts to appeal to the desire for health, or in this case not becoming a teen parent. However, as mentioned previously, this method is flawed. In order to improve the current intervention, a group model must be used. This allows for the opportunity to change the opinion of the masses, take visceral and social influences into consideration and use elements of irrationality.
Marketing theory, while originally developed for the consumption of products or services, can also be used to build brands for public health. In its original sense, Chisnall (1995) defined marketing as “the management process responsible for the identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements according to the objectives of the organization'' (9). In public health, this means determining the deepest aspirations of the target audience, and then framing messages accordingly to influence healthy decisions. Similar to product brands, “public health brands can build relationships with audiences to encourage adoption and maintenance of preventive or health-promoting behaviors. Like commercial brands, they offer a brand promise, and typically ground their brand promotion in a ‘call to action’ that defines what the brand calls upon consumers to do” (4). In order to build a relationship, it is necessary to understand the target audience and then create a package that fulfills the audience’s wants and needs. In the Candie’s campaign, the target audience is teenage American girls. To appeal to this group’s core values, the campaign should focus on belonging, control and sex. It is recommended that through the use of these core values, the campaign move away from negative messages that tell the audience what NOT to do, to messages that empower girls to do what other girls their age are already doing: taking control of their own sex life. This leads to the ‘call to action’, which in this case is taking ownership for the purchasing, carrying, and using of condoms, for each and every sexual encounter. The recommended brand tagline, “Do It for You”, captures the essence of the brand promise: take control of your sex life and promise yourself a brilliant future.
Public health brands can also go beyond the immediate, practical benefits of the preventive or health-promoting behavior with an added value (4). Using the previous suggestions, messages can extend beyond the promotion of safe sex, with an added value that girls who buy condoms will be seen as confident and sexy. The hope is that over time, it will become a social norm for teenage girls to purchase and take ownership for the use of condoms.
Many campaigns have failed because they lost trust with the target audience (primarily adolescents, and secondarily their parents) because they failed to appreciate the perceived benefits of the behavior they were competing against, were generally negative and lacked emotional or graphic appeal, and failed to offer a viable behavioral alternative (4). The proposed intervention succeeds at each of these by acknowledging sex as a factor, providing positive and empowering messages, and proposing the use of condoms, rather than promoting a strict message of abstinence.

Intervention #2: The Messages

As discussed previously, using negative statistics and messages to promote a change in behavior is ineffective. Rather than use fear appeals to scare the target audience into action, it is recommended that elements of the group behavior models get put into play. Ownership and labeling theory are both elements of irrational behavior models that can be used to construct positive messages rather than negative ones.
Ownership, which describes how people are compelled to avoid loss, explains that people need to first own their behavior, before they can change it. However, in order to change a health behavior, such as practicing safe sex, the individual needs to find the offer compelling and immediate. Often this means that the offer is not health. In this intervention, the target audience needs to own their sex life by purchasing, carrying and using of condoms. The commercials and print advertisements will not include any statistics or messages that tell the audience what not to do, but instead images and phrases that empower teenage girls to take action. Images will include bright, vibrant teenage girls looking fearless, unlike the current commercials which show girls looking scared and alone. Messages will include the previously mentioned, “Do It for You”, as well as “Do It for Your Future”. Both the images and messages will reflect the idea of ownership, in this case, of your sex life.
A second element used in irrational behavior models is labeling theory. Originally developed by Howard Becker (1963) to explain deviant behavior, it has been used over the years to help explain how people are stereotyped based on their race, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, religion, or situation. A label is the product of group identifications and is created by the reactions of outsiders to a perceived social target-group (10).
When a person actually becomes that in which they are labeled, this is referred to as a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. Jussim (1990) and Merton (1976) stated that “when a self-fulfilling prophecy occurs, the target person’s behavior actually changes in ways consistent with the perceiver’s expectation” (10). Although this is usually thought of in terms of negative labels and behaviors, public health can use this idea to promote positive behavior. Such as, we can label teen girls as confident and expect that they will take ownership of their sex life, thus leading to a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ of girls actually participating in safe sex behaviors. Again, this idea of labeling theory ties into the suggested empowering, motivating messages that were explained earlier.
Cechaviciute and Kenny (2007) go on to explain that a label can only affect a person if that person does not possess a clear and confident conception of him/herself. Without a clear conception of self, people more easily internalize others’ perceptions and thus conform to the expectations, rather than convince perceivers to view them as they view themselves (10). Since teenagers are still defining who they are and do not yet have a clear conception of self, this element of irrational behavior will work very well for this target audience.

Intervention #3: The Communicators

In order to help avoid psychological reactance amongst the target audience, one must evaluate the current communicators of the abstinence message. As discussed in the critique, the current spokespeople are generally older and live very different lives as celebrities than the average American teenage girl. Only one of the spokespeople has gone through a pregnancy as a teenager, and the experience was one very different than it would have been if she didn’t have the same resources available to her. Bristol Palin does not have to worry if she has enough money to make ends meet, or if she has the support of her family. Instead she has to worry about being in the spotlight as a teen mother and how it will affect her life and that of her son.
Being told not to have sex by celebrities, who in the minds of teenagers, know nothing of what it is like to live as an average youth in America, can only lead to resistance. Although teenagers may look to celebrities for fashion tips, they need spokespeople they can relate to in order to truly grasp an important, life changing message. Schyns and Meindl stated that if an individual identifies with another person, then it is more likely that they will imitate the behaviors of that person (11). For this reason, it is highly suggested that the Candie’s Foundation use spokespeople that are peers to their target audience.
Generally, to keep with the positive, empowering tone, the television commercials and print advertisements should use everyday, bright, confident teenage girls to deliver these messages. However, in order to tell both sides of the story, the foundation’s website should include real life stories from teenage girls who became pregnant, in addition to stories and advice from spokespeople who practice safe sex. To keep with familiar faces, they should partner with MTV and ask teenage girls from the shows “16 and Pregnant”, as well as “Teen Mom” to share their stories. In each of these real-life shows, they follow a girl while they navigate adolescence, growing pains, rebellion, and coming of age; all while dealing with being pregnant, or having a new baby. Each girl's story offers a unique look into the wide variety of challenges faced by pregnant and new moms: marriage, adoption, religion, gossip, finances, rumors, graduating high school and getting/losing a job. Both the girls that practice safe sex and the girls that became pregnant can share their stories and give words of advice. These messages will take the place of the statistics which currently bombard the Candie’s Foundation website. These peer communicators will be a great improvement to the current spokespeople who promote a message that they cannot fully connect with.


The Candie’s Foundation campaign to prevent teenage pregnancies is greatly flawed. The current behavior change model, messages to the audience, and communicators of the message must be changed in order to influence a change in behavior. In analyzing the current techniques used, a few main points became evident. For one, the organization should aim to promote safe sex, rather than abstinence. Not only is this goal more realistic, but research shows that people do not respond well when being told not to do something. Second, fear appeals and negative statistics should be eliminated and replaced by empowering, positive messages. Last, the communicators of the messages should be replaced by peers of the target audience, in this case, other teenage American girls. In making these changes, the goals of the Candie’s Foundation will be accomplished more successfully.

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