Chicago is the Latest City to Tackle Teen Pregnancy with Weird Ads

Faced with a teen pregnancy rate that's reported to be one and a half times higher than the national average, the Chicago Department of Health decided that they needed to do something drastic. So they took to the subways with an ad they knew would be controversial, because that's what cities are doing about teen pregnancy these days.

The ads depict boys photoshopped to look like they're pregnant. They're described as an attempt to "challenge gender roles related to teen pregnancy and parenthood" and convince people that "Teen Parenthood is More Than Just a Girl's Responsibility!" The CDPH is using the hashtag #Unexpected on Twitter in the hopes that ads are controversial enough that teens will start tweeting about them and be so busy tweeting that they won't even have time to have unprotected sex. Right now, the feed is dominated by totally unrelated tweets, journalists and media organizations tweeting their stories on the campaign, and the CDPH's own accounts.

Chicago is the Latest City to Tackle Teen Pregnancy with Weird Ads

Some have found the ads less than effective and instead feel they're insulting to transgender individuals. On the Facebook account for the CDPH, one woman asked:

"Can we please create teen pregnancy awareness campaigns that do not shame transgender people who become/are pregnant? This campaign was awful in Milwaukee, and it's awful in Chicago too. Very disappointed in the Chicago Department of Public Health for doing this."

Chicago is the Latest City to Tackle Teen Pregnancy with Weird Ads

The campaign she's referencing was implemented in Milwaukee for several years in the late oughts. A study put together upon its completion claimed that the city "experienced four years of steadily declining teen birth rates between 2006 and 2009, moving from 52 teen births per 1,000 to 44.4." In the fall of 2012 it was announced that rates had dropped again. The city now wants to reduce births for 15 to 17 year olds by 46% by 2015. Instead of "challenging gender roles", this campaign focused how difficult it is to have a child when you're young.

Chicago is the Latest City to Tackle Teen Pregnancy with Weird Ads

That's a tactic that the most recent Offensive But Hopefully Effective Teen Pregnancy campaign – launched this year in New York City – took as well. It prompted MSNBC commentator Melissa Harris Perry to declare that Mayor Michael Bloomberg had pushed this message too far:

"Maybe you don't realize this, Mr. Mayor, but most of us who were raised by single moms never had any interest in shaming them. We tend to praise them, recognize their sacrifices."

And as for the campaign in Chicago, it's all part of a larger push to broaden sexual education for kids of all ages; Democrats in the state are actually trying to push through a bill that would allow sex ed classes to be taught to Kindergarteners. At the CDPH, they've created websites like BeYouBeHealthy.org (features a diagram about how to put on a condom) or Sex-Ed Loop.com (writing by teenagers about sex, pregnancy, health etc). They're also ramping up their Condom Availability Program.

Do these campaigns really work? Older studies indicate that just an ad campaign in itself won't do much, but "comprehensive, multidisciplinary efforts tailored to the unique needs of specific subgroups of adolescents" are most effective. It's unclear if there's a government organization or an advertising agency that can figure out a way to do that without being inflammatory; advertising targeted to teens in an attempt to better their behavior is notoriously heavy-handed, as if the only way to get through to a younger generation is to lecture without nuance but by using extreme imagery and scenarios. Depending on who you ask, this is totally working. Or maybe it isn't.

What if boys got pregnant? [Al Jazeera]