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Commentary: Why billboard is an Ad FAIL

By Thembisa Mshaka

An offensive, incendiary ad went up in Manhattan this week targeting the wombs of Black women. I was not alone in my anger at the ad; media personality and recording artist Free shared my upset. She invited me to provide some analysis on the ad to take the discussion on twitter beyond the emotional reactions the ad sparked. Below is what she posted at I’d love to get your thoughts here as well.

Here’s the ad:

Commentary: Why billboard is an Ad FAIL 1

No, your eyes do not deceive you.



I have been in advertising and marketing communications for over 12 years. As a writer of numerous campaigns across categories from pro-social to entertainment, I understand the impact words and images are designed to make in the form of advertising. I want to examine all that is wrong with this ad:

Copy: “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.” The headline is designed to grab your attention. It certainly does that—but it also maligns African American expectant mothers and infers that the Black female body is toxic and to be feared, when in fact the womb is the seminal, most natural place in the world for any child of any mother. Now Black women’s wombs are more dangerous than urban streets, than corrupt police, than semi-automatic weapons, than drugs?! The headline seems to work counter to the overall message, which is that they want to prevent abortions. If that’s so, then what’s so scary about a pregnant Black woman? Ohhh, the fact that she might be in control of her own reproductive system; that she would make an informed choice of her own volition. Now I get it.

Imagery: Instead of seeing a mature pregnant woman, or even an infant, we are presented with an adorable young African-American girl who looks to be under the age of 8. What is this ad’s image saying? That the child is also dangerous as the outcome of a Black woman giving birth? That she is the owner of the dangerous womb and sexually active, (which objectifies and sexualizes her in a way that is totally inappropriate)? Or is it intended to make a woman considering terminating a pregnancy rethink it if she sees a cute little girl that her embryo could become? In my view, this cute girl is meant to make me look and say “awww, how cute!” and then read the whole ad. Any answer occurs for me as a ploy. More abuse of the black female image.

But what if this woman was raped? What if her pregnancy is the result of incest? What if the condom just broke, or she’s simply not prepared emotionally or financially to bring a child into the world? What if the embryo has genetic abnormalities the mother is not able or willing to manage? Much more goes into this decision than interest groups and politicians tend to admit or accept.

A woman’s right to choose is under a full-blown assault in America right now. From talk of overturning Roe v. Wade, to Republicans trying to redefine “rape” in legislation to the Senate voting to de-fund Planned Parenthood, the pendulum is dangerously close to swinging back to hangers in dark alleys or interstate drives in the dead of night for illegal procedures. Instead of offensive and insensitive ads for shock value, why wouldn’t share options for pregnant women that involve going full term? Present the option of surrogacy, or offering the child for adoption instead of vilifying the same womb that creates life. Or, sing the praises of abstinence or safe sex. All that is too complicated; it’s easier to slap a nasty headline on a sweet image and generate some buzz. If women of color are terminating at disproportionate rates, a closer look at all the factors that contribute to this should be examined. All women deserve to know what those factors are. gets an Ad FAIL from me for race-baiting with their advertising.

Thembisa S. Mshaka, Promax Gold and Telly award-winning advertising and media executive and author, Put Your Dreams First, Handle Your [entertainment] Business (Business Plus/GCP, 2009)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]