Sunday, 20 July 2008

Official Responses - Part I

It's been a bit quiet on the Lisa advert front in recent weeks. I'd been waiting, waiting, waiting, for replies from both ALAC (to this) and the ASA (to this), and was starting to think I'd have to send some polite reminders. Certainly the focus here has been elsewhere in the last month, with first the abortion stuff, then the Veitch stuff, and of course all the other bits and pieces that are of interest to us all on an ongoing basis.

Then on Monday this week I received an email from Gerard Vaughan. Gerard Vaughan I thought to myself, who is that, name rings a vague bell... I was about to consign it to the spam folder (and curse Xtra yet again for failing to eficiently weed out those annoyances) but luckily I didn't, and thus I can bring you the CEO of ALAC's response to the email I sent back in June with a whole host of questions for the organisation who brought us the Lisa advert:

Dear Julie,*
I apologise for the delay in answering your questions. I have been out of the office for much of June. I hope the following answers your questions.

1. Conception
The advertising agency ALAC used was Clemenger BBDO in Wellington.

The brief they were given was to:
  • Get adult New Zealanders (in this case women aged 25 - 40 no kids)
  • Who binge drink and think it's harmless fun
  • To realise what it could cost them
  • By understanding that drinking past the point of no return, could take me somewhere ugly
  • Like this: not judgemental but direct, honest, gritty.
The objective of the commercial is behaviour change. Research asked women to identify their single biggest fear about binge drinking. The biggest fear to emerge was sexual vulnerability. We could not ignore this finding given that this consequence was most likely to engage our female audience and had the potential to reduce the incidence of binge drinking among our female target audience.

2. Content
The target audience for this particular commercial was women without children 25 - 40 years. They are a group which fetures heavily in binge drinking statistics (both in NZ and globally). To get the message across to this audience requires relevance, therefore the story needed to be told from a woman's perspective. At no stage was it considered to tell the "man's story" with regard to his drinking.

ALAC based the Lisa ad on research. Discussions took place within 60 mini focus groups (three participants plus facilitator) in a sample of locations - Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Gisborne. Participants were 25 - 60 years old, gender balanced, and a mixture of socio-economic groupings, with/without children, single or living in a permanent relationship. The mini focus groups seperately comprised NZ Europeans, Maori, Pacific Peoples and Asians. Filtering at recruitment identified Binge Drinkers and Moderate Drinkers.

The take-out message of the ad is not around the man's drinking behaviour. This commerical needs to get women who binge drink and think its harmless fun, to realise that drinking past the point of no return can make someone vulnerable to serious harms.

For a commerical to be effective it needs to be single-minded in nature. The commercial is intended to make women like Lisa think "I recognise that type of drinking - oh my God, that could happen to me." The end goal is that women like Lisa will drink moderately in future.

After development of the ad a further round of focus groups was to ensure the take out of the ad was to do with the drinking behaviour and that alcohol is responsible for her change in demeanour - it is not victim-blaming. It is crucial to the commercial's success that women can identify strongly with Lisa's drinking behaviour. Our research testing of the ad has shown this to be the case.

3. Focus Groups
During the development process we went back to groups of women at two different stages to test both the concepts and to ensure that the out take of the advertisement was that it was about the drinking behaviour and not blaming the person.

Focus groups conducted with the completed ad clearly demonstrated that:
  • It has a very high personal relevance and the scenario is recognisable and believable. "I could see myself in that ad. Been there, done that, so many times before!" "This reminds me of me and my mates. Horrible. Makes me think I want all my friends to watch this." "Made me concerned, because I get like her."
  • Drinking with workmates and gulping a few backto feel comfortable and a part of the group, is a scenario women like Lisa totally can relate to. "Drinks after work... trying to fit in... I can relate to that."
  • "Hooking up with guys" when drinking was talked about as commonplace, and seeing it in this context was a reminder of the inherent dangers of this behaviour. "Hooking up with strangers. I do that a lot after [drinking.] You don't know what they are capable of..."
4. Consultation
ALAC communicated with various social agencies in relation to the new ad campaign in the two weeks before ads went to air. Agencies included ACC, Land Transport NZ, Ministry of Women's Affairs, the Families Commission, Police, Jigsaw Family Services, Rape Crisis, the Family Planning Association and the Children's Commissioner. The ads were also played prior to screenings on television at stakeholder meetings held in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch the week prior to the launch. ALAC also attended a Ministry of Women's Affairs staff meeting where there was debate over whether the Lisa ad blamed women.

In the future ALAC will consult with agencies working with rape and sexual assault at an earlier stage of developing any campaign that raises issues of sexual vulnerability for women.

5. Complaints
In the first two weeks after the ads played ALAC received three complaints about the Lisa ad. Two of the complaints concerned blaming women for rape. The other was concerned at the male was portrayed. Since then there have been three further complaints about the Lisa ad and whether it is blaming women. Some complaints have also been made to the Advertising Standards Authority.

6. Promotion
There have been approximately 300 spots from the launch of the campaign until the end of last week. They have run on TV1, TV2, TV3, Prime and Sky channels. The ad is likely to run for the foreseeable future. The campaign appears on television only and is aired after 8.30pm.

7. Finally
ALAC funds an 0800 number which is staffed by trained counsellors who qualified to deal with any issues that arise from viewing the ads. We would encourage anyone who wants to talk about any issues that result from viewing this ad or the other two in the series to ring the 0800 number displayed on all three ads.

Yours etc,


My initial thoughts are these:
  • Vaughan has made a significant effort here, but hasn't answered all of my questions, particularly in regard to part 7, where I asked if ALAC would be prepared to meet with women who had been victims of sexual assaults to talk with them about the impact that the ads had on them personally. This has not even been addressed. As Vaughan has also failed to mention my question about whether they considered the impact this ad might have on those who had been victims of sexual assault I guess that means an answer in the negative to that one. Similarly with the lack of response to the query about the wisdom of asking people to consider and discuss an ad featuring a sexual assault in a group setting.
  • The focus group work is clearly extensive, but seems to have missed any research on possible unintended consequences from the ad, i.e that the "take out" isn't just about binge drinking, but also about policing women's behaviour more generally and may serve to reinforce the "she was asking for it" trope.
  • I find it interesting mental origami that Vaughan states that the message they wanted to get across, and which he claims was absorbed, was that it was the alcohol was responsible for the change in Lisa's demeanour, yet this is somehow in line with the campaign tag "it's not the drinking, it's how we're drinking"? Again this misses the fundamental point - the ad makes the link between Lisa's demeanour and the negative outcome for her, ie rape.
  • The "hooking up with guys" point I just find quite disturbing and objectionable. Yet again, a crucial disconnect with our concerns. This is not Dennis from accounts, this is a sexual assault.
  • In regard to the consultation stuff my reading of this is that they stuffed up a little and they know it. It really is very good indeed that they are going to involve groups like Rape Crisis (presumably) in developing any future ads that feature issues of sexual assault. Now if we could just get ALAC to stop thinking of it as "sexual vulnerability"...
Coincidentally I also received a response this week, in Friday's snail mail, from the ASA. More on that in a second post as time allows. I don't think you are going to like it much.

In the meantime here's Eleanor Bishop's column in Salient on this issue earlier this month, and also if you want to peruse all the posts on this issue so far I've tagged them with their own category, "The Lisa Advert Chronicles". And there's the online petition (over 340 sigs as I write) and the Facebook group (nearly 200 members) on the matter too.

* I've squished up the paragraphs a little to make this not quite such a massive post, and I had to type the letter in over the course of a few hours broken up by a baby who seems to have forgotten how to sleep so there may be some typos. Hopefully I'll get a chance to proof and correct tomorrow (Monday). So in the first instance please assume any errors with Mr Vaughan's letter are mine until I've had a chance to do that.


artichoke said...

I am certain you will be able to draw some parallels with An Iconography of Contagion, a new exhibit at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington

How do we communicate public health messages today ... and how different is it from the way we communicated them in the 1940's?

Anonymous said...

Non-judgmental? Pull the other one, it's got bells on. No, there's no judgement whatsoever in a woman turning from a prim, waistcoated wine-drinker to a loose-haired dancing tequila-shot-drinking one who gets raped.

"The end goal is that women like Lisa will drink more moderately in future" - right, because now ALAC's put the fear of sexual assault into them. Hurrah! *headdesk*

tussock said...

So, their logic is as follows.

1: Some women binge drink, particularly single women from 25-40. They're being paid to reduce the incidence of that.

2: Women fear being raped.

3: If they make the entirely false connection that binge drinking women are natural targets for rapists, women will fear binge drinking.

4: It worked, so they fulfilled the terms of their contract.

One might wonder why they simply didn't tell people about what binge drinking really does to women. Poverty, health effects (it's carcinogenic, let alone thinking of your liver, brain, heart, immune system, ...), anti-social behavior, accidental injuries; you know, same as men.