When I drove across the country a couple of weeks ago, something had changed since the last time I made the trek; what happened to all the pro-life billboards? When driving through the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin a couple of summers ago it seemed like we couldn't go a mile or two without seeing an 'Abortion is Murder' billboard with a picture of a hacked up fetus on it. And all that graphic, shock and shame-based marketing made me think of sandwiches.
Hold on, I can explain! Have you seen or heard a Subway commercial lately? The bulk of their advertising in the past few years has been focused on shaming and mocking overweight people.
OK, so it's not exactly saying, 'Have another burger, fatass!' but the implication is there: if you don't eat what we tell you to eat, you'll be fat, and if you're fat, you're miserable and unlovable. Just ask Jared. Maybe that's effective marketing, but it's also pretty slimy. Besides that, Quizno's is so much better than Subway, and Quizno's never gave me shit for going to Carl's Jr. They just told me their sandwiches tasted good. (And have you had that Batch 81 sauce? It rivals Arby's Sauce as the greatest condiment ever created.)
So Subway wants you to be ashamed of what you eat, and the Midwest wants you to hate yourself for the rest of your life if you've ever even considered an abortion, but it's not just Big Sandwich and the Religious Right who use shame to sell products and push agendas -- have a look at some animal rescue websites.
Check out Causes on Facebook, of which my organization has begun to make good use recently; the top animal rescue organizations on that site are showing you pictures of mangled fighting dogs, burned kittens, or just sad-ass puppies waiting miserably to be adopted. Don't you dare look away -- these animals need your help. And the fact that these top animal welfare organizations, including ASPCA, HSUS, and PETA, oppose the no-kill movement, meaning that in many cases they advocate the killing of the very same animals in their photos, all the while calling it 'rescue', you shouldn't be dissuaded from giving them your money, because after all, if you don't, more pit bulls will be mangled, and more kittens will be set on fire. Hell, you might as well be holding the match.
And then there's this delightful ad:
I can't tell you how many people have told me they turn the TV off when that one comes on. I'm surprised the networks will even air it. So I'd like to pose a few questions, to HSUS and the other organizations that use similar marketing strategies to raise money for their rescue (and animal killing) work -- Do you think the 'shock and shame' model changes hearts and minds? Do you think you make more money showing people disgusting images of torture, or showing them an alternative? And if you're showing people graphic images of animal suffering in order to raise money for your cause, aren't you exploiting those animals for gain, even benefiting from their pain? Is any of it really necessary?
I deal with the horror of animal abuse every day. I see the things in the HSUS ads firsthand. And I change the channel when those commercials come on. I don't deny that the ads are effective -- clearly they attract donors and volunteers, but I think it would be interesting to see psych evaluations done on the people who respond favorably to them. I can't responsibly hypothesize about what the results would indicate, but I will say that the reputation of animal rescuers for being 'crazy' isn't entirely undeserved, and furthermore, when I, who live in a kennel with a pack of feral dogs, often feel like one of the most sane people in our field, something's very wrong. I think it's entirely possible that shock and shame attract the mentally ill and repel the mentally stable. Honestly, if you think about it, how could that not be the case? If nothing else it's manipulative, and mentally stable people tend to walk away when they feel they're being manipulated.
I've stayed away from shock and shame in my own organization's website and promotional materials, preferring to show people images of healthy animals playing and having a good time. Sure, I tell their stories, but if I tell you a dog's face was torn half-off, do I really need to show you a photo of it? There's a big difference between not hiding the ugly truth from people and shoving it in their faces. Do I need to put a grotesque image in your head that haunts you for the rest of your life? Do I need to give your children nightmares? My Sanctuary may not be a multi-million dollar a year organization (yet), but for a nonprofit founded less than three years ago, I think we do pretty well. In the last five hours we've raised $150 with this photo:
It's not a ton of money, but we'll use every cent of it to save animals. Maybe we'd get more money if she was covered in wounds and lying in a pool of blood, but I'm not doing that. We'll build this organization without blood money, without shame money, without 'Please God make it stop!' money. And unlike the others, we won't be then using that money to kill healthy dogs and cats in some back room. Look -- I can be as negative and accusatory as anyone (this rant is the proof), but putting aside whatever foul mood I might be in or whatever's pissing me off today, even the very topic of this entry, 'at the end of the day' as they say, I'd rather create beauty than try to put a dent in ugliness. Sure, it's semantics, a glass half full/glass half empty kind of thing (or as my good friend Brent once said, the glass is half empty, and the other half is piss) but if I have the choice between showing you how ugly the world is or showing you another option, well, I think you know where I stand.