A series of new public service billboards in California, which tout the importance of breastfeeding, are borrowing heavily from the notorious GodSpeaks campaign.
If you’ve done any long distance driving in America in the last decade, you’re probably familiar with the GodSpeaks billboards. You know, those big black billboards that say things like, What part of “Thou shalt not…” didn’t you understand? and Have you read my #1 best seller? (There will be a test.) The GodSpeaks advertising campaign is an amazing, if somewhat creepy, story:
In 1998, an anonymous donor contacted an advertising agency with an idea for a local billboard campaign that would create a spiritual climate and get people to think about a daily relationship with a loving and relevant God. The agency came up with the idea of creating a series of quotes from God to be placed on billboards. The billboards would be simple and easy to read—black boards with white type, and all “signed” by God. No logo. No address or phone number. Not religious or condemning. Just straightforward messages that would rightly represent God. Eighteen sayings were selected to run on billboards in south Florida, ranging from serious to moving to funny; all intended to make the reader smile and think about God—perhaps in a new way. The campaign was scheduled to run for three months.
As the original billboards were coming down, following their planned three-month run, the agency got a call from Eller Media, one of the largest billboard companies in the world. Eller wanted to run the campaign nationwide if the client would donate the sayings. Then, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), the trade group made up of all the companies who own and rent billboards, offered to use the sayings as their national public service campaign for 1999. The result was that GodSpeaks sayings appeared on some 10,000 billboards in 200 cities across America—and all free-of-charge! The donated billboard space was valued at $15 million.
Now, the same anonymous, original donor is back with more billboards (As my apprentice, you’re never fired. The real Supreme Court meets up here.)
I don’t love the idea of advertising agencies marketing God and billing it as a public service. I mean, marketing God to me on billboards, like car insurance and adult bookstores, just seems kind of cheap. Plus, the ads are blatantly Christian, with some saying things like Let’s meet at My house Sunday, before the game and You think it’s hot here?
If something is going to be a public service, I’d like it if it served more than just people who believe in Jesus. You know–like infants who might benefit from breast milk. Which brings us back to the California campaign.
Adfreak offers this analysis:
…as a bottle-feeding parent (who heartily supports breastfeeding), I’d be less annoyed by those graphic ads about how I’m probably giving my kid diabetes or asthma. At least they're backed up by science. These white-on-black billboards, blatantly riffing on the “God Speaks” campaign, just come off as preachy—and scientifically debatable. Some humans were born to have dozens of offspring and die in their 40s. That doesn’t make me want to do that. Still, I admit the goal is a commendable one, and I suppose the space could be used for something far more obnoxious.
The advertising council seems to want us to think that God encourages breastfeeding, which is not exactly a leap of faith, considering breastfeeding is something women's bodies are designed for. But why does it matter if God wants us to breastfeed? It's healthier, easier, and cheaper than buying formula. That's the sell. God's take on what I do with my boobs? Kind of awkward.