“A mind is
a terrible thing to waste.” “Friends
don’t let friends drive drunk.”
“Only you can prevent forest fires.” Since the
1940s the Ad Council has been impacting the culture
with slogans like these. Now the venerable
nonprofit organization is out to educate teens that antigay
slang doesn’t cut it anymore -- and to kick-start the
effort, it's recruited Hilary Duff.
partnership with the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education
Network, the organization that strives to ensure safe
schools for all kids, the Ad Council’s new
multimedia campaign is the biggest thing ever to
address teen hate speech, according to GLSEN executive
director Kevin Jennings.
“We were a
little startled when they came to us 18 months ago and said,
'We’ve never done a campaign on LGBT issues before.
We think it’s time, and we want do it in an
education context,'" said Jennings, speaking to TheAdvocate on the Los Angeles set of the first TV
ad. “So we were the natural partner at GLSEN, because
our work is about education and about young
that the problem wasn’t hate but lack of awareness.
“Sixty-eight percent of young people frequently or
often say 'that’s so gay' to describe things
they don’t like,” Jennings said.
“Forty-seven percent frequently or often use
the words 'fag' or 'faggot' to describe people they
don’t like. But when you then ask students about
their actual attitudes toward gay people, only 13% say
they actively dislike LGBT people. Fifty percent of
the students say ‘I don’t really
care.’ So you’ve got a lot of kids
just picking up the language that they hear other
campaign’s strategy was to bypass the true antigay
bullies and reach out to what Jennings called
“the kid in the middle.”
“If we can
get the bystanders to start saying this isn’t
acceptable, they will shut the bullies up,”
The TV ad
campaign features slice-of-life scenarios in which
celebrities walk in and remind teens that “so
gay” is an insult. While they’re
at it, they dish out a dreaded teen punishment:
In the first TV
ad Duff overhears a pair of teen girls trying on clothes
in a boutique. “Do you like this top?”
one girl asks. “Totally gay,” yawns her
Enter Duff, who
tartly shows the “that’s so gay” girl
just how it feels to be ridiculed. She exits over
the lines: “When you say ‘that’s so
gay,’ do you realize what you say? Knock it
Jennings, teens love the spots. “Nobody likes to
be lectured, and also most teens don’t believe
they’re bad people because they use they use
this language, so to yell at them saying, 'You’re
bad, you’re bad, stop doing bad things' just
wouldn’t resonate with them. “
In a second spot
teens get the “knock it off” message from
Wanda Sykes -- a past master of the put-down.
teens in focus groups asked for Duff and Sykes by
name. “When we asked, ‘Who would be a
good person for the campaign, Wanda and Hilary were
names they offered. So we were incredibly thrilled
when [the actresses] actually said yes."
Throughout its history the Ad Council has created its public service announcements with volunteer services from top advertising and media talent. Arnold Worldwide, a midsize New York ad agency, worked pro bono to create the “Knock It Off” campaign, utilizing background information from GLSEN, independent research, and online focus groups.
GLSEN donated the hard production costs. “It cost close to $2 million to partner in this campaign,” said Jennings. “But the media value of the campaign is estimated at $100 million," said Jennings. “So we’re spending two cents to get a dollar’s worth of exposure.”
The campaign comprises not just television but print, radio, outdoor and Web advertising. A comprehensive website, ThinkB4YouSpeak.com, offers interactive features including a pledge form that urges teens to “say something original” instead of “that’s so gay.”
The ads go out this week to some 33,000 media stations nationwide. All the ads will appear via advertising time and space donated by media. According to a joint statement by GLSEN and the Ad Council, MTV and other media companies have made early commitments to support the campaign.
The tone of the ads may be light, but no one’s minimizing the tragic consequences of hate speech.
“I think the campaign took on a new sense of urgency when Lawrence King was killed,” said Jennings, referring to the gay Oxnard, Calif., eighth-grader who was gunned down in February after telling a classmate he had a crush on him. “It made people realize exactly how much was at stake and that what happened to Lawrence King started with kids using language and nobody telling them it was wrong and that we needed to make that happen.”
Duff will unveil the ad at GLSEN’s annual Respect Dinner, held Friday in Los Angeles.