Challenging Dogma - Spring 2011

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Why Teenage Pregnancy in the United States is a Never Ending Issue: A Critique of the Candie’s Foundation – Vonne Lee

Background on Teenage Pregnancy:

Teenage pregnancy is a serious issue in the United States and there is a substantial need for effective campaigns to educate teens about preventing pregnancies and having safe sex. In 2010, 11% of births in the United States were to 15-19 year olds (1) and while this is a decline from 1991, compared to other developed countries, teen birth rates in the U.S. are nine times higher (2). Although teen pregnancy prevention programs exist in the United States, racial/ethnic and geographic disparities persist. In 2008, teenage birth rates ranged from less than 25.0 per 1,000 15-19 year olds in North Eastern States to 60.0 per 1,000 in Southern States (5). Historically, teenage birth rates have been high for non-Hispanic black and Hispanic teenagers; and 52% of Latina teens and 50% of African American teen girls will become pregnant at least once before they turn 20 compared with only 19% of non-Hispanic white teenage girls (6). These racial differences are directly related to differentiations in sexual behavior and contraceptive use. In 2009, black high school students (65%) were more likely than Hispanic students (49%) and white students (42%) to report having ever had sex while 63% of whites students say they used a condom the last time they had sex compared with 62% of blacks and 55% of Hispanic students (7).

Compared to women who give birth when they are 20-21 years of age, teen mothers are more likely to drop out of school, remain unmarried and live in poverty. Overall, about half (51%) of teen moms have a high school diploma compared to 89% of women who didn’t have a teen birth. Fewer than four in ten mothers who have a child before they turn 18 have a high school diploma (8). Furthermore, children of teen mothers are more likely to drop out of school, grow up poor, live in single-parent households and enter the child welfare system (3); daughters of teen mothers are more likely to becomes teen mothers themselves (3) which further perpetuates the problem. In the long run, teen mothers are more likely to have a second birth relatively soon- about one fourth of teenage mothers have a second child within 24 months of the first birth (9).

Not only are there negative consequences for the teen mother and her child/children, teen pregnancies have a substantial effect on the economy. In 2004, teen childbearing cost taxpayers in the U.S. $9.1 billion ($6 billion in lost tax revenues and ~$3 billion in public expenditures) with an average cost of $4,080 per teen mother (aged 17 and younger) annually (4). Although research has shown that the number of teens having sex is lower than in past decades, attitudes towards getting pregnant (or getting their partner pregnant) are more lax (10)- something possibly attributable to the media; including MTV’s show Teen Mom, the movie Juno and well known celebrities such as Jamie Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin. In a study conducted by the CDC, one in five teen girls who have had sex said they would be pleased if they got pregnant and one in four teenage boys who have had sex would be please if their partner got pregnant (11).

All of these facts clearly indicate the need for effective pregnancy prevention and safe sex campaigns. The campaigns that currently exist are inadequately addressing this serious health and economic issue. For there to a substantial alteration, campaigns need to address the issue of teenage pregnancy in such a manner so as to elicit a considerable behavior change in teens among the U.S. The Candies Foundation is one such campaign that attempts to accomplish this task, but unfortunately, their marketing campaign drastically fails. The purpose of this paper is the critique the Candie’s Foundation in terms of its design and aims to propose an intervention/re-design, which will ultimately change the campaign into an influential behavior-changing foundation.

Background- The Candie’s Foundation:

Launched 10 years ago in June 2001, the Candie’s Foundation is run by Neil Cole who is also the head of the Candie’s fashion brand. According to its website, the “Candie’s Foundation is a non-profit organization that works to shape the way youth in America think about teen pregnancy and parenthood” (12). Through communication campaigns, the goal of the foundation is to raise awareness about, and motive teens to prevent teen pregnancy. The foundation claims to use a unique approach stating: “all of our adds use celebrities that teens can relate to, in a style that speaks to teens in their own terms” (12). By going beyond raising awareness, “our goal is to influence teen culture.” The campaign shares their content with organizations around the country that do community-level teen pregnancy prevention programs. By doing this, they attempt to “reach teens simultaneously at the macro level – pop culture around teen pregnancy and parenting – and the mirco level – individual skills and behaviors” (12).

The Candie’s Foundation utilizes both print ads and video clips that feature various celebrities including Bristol Palin, Hayden Panettiere Jenny McCarthy, and Hillary Duff. According to its website, the overreaching message of the campaign is: “Pause Before You Play: pause to think about your future; pause to think about consequences; pause to evaluate your relationship; pause to delay sex; pause to get a condom; pause to ask ‘why now?’ ”(12). Furthermore, specific messages of the campaign include: I Never Thought I would be a Statistic, Be Sexy: It Doesn’t Mean You Have to Have Sex and Be Smart: You Are Too Young to Start. (12).

In 2010, Neil Cole, Founder of the Candie’s Foundation stated that “our work at the Candie’s Foundation coupled with other organizations committed to preventing teen pregnancy is making a difference, although, so much work remains to be done…bold, innovative initiatives that capture teens’ attention and keep teen pregnancy in the national dialogue are critical to changing the culture of teen pregnancy in the country” (13). Although the organization “works with national media outlets and teen pregnancy organizations to reach the greatest number of teens with the most effective messages” (12), for the Candie’s Foundation to be successful at accomplishing its goals, many changes are needed. Through its various public service announcement (PSA) campaigns, the foundation is unsuccessful at running an effective campaign that truly alters the behaviors of teenagers.

Critique Argument 1- Slogans and Contradictions:

Although adolescents report they would prefer to learn about sexual topics from their parents, the media is also an important source for sexual information and norms (16)- a fact that the Candie’s Foundation attempts to utilize. The slogans “Be Smart: Too Young to Start” and “Be Smart: Don’t Give Up Your Education” appear on ads in various magazines including: Seventeen, Teen Vogue and Elle. With the goal of making teen girls think twice before engaging in sex, these slogans are more likely to induce a negative reactance from the targeted population as opposed to compliance. The Psychological Reactance Theory, as described by Jack Brehm, states that if a person’s behavioral freedom is reduced or threatened, the person will become motivationally aroused, with the arousal directed toward the reestablishment of whatever freedom had been lost or threatened (14). Studies have shown that when adolescents are presented with message(s) that threaten their freedom, they react negatively to the message(s). For example, controlling language in anti-drinking campaigns led to negative ratings of the message and more drinking intentions, and participants ended up drinking a third more beer than participants in a control group (15).

The slogans utilized by the Candie’s Foundation tell their audience that they are too young to be having sex and that if they do engage in sex, they aren’t in control of their education. These statements fall victim to psychological reactance and are therefore ineffective at soliciting a positive response from teenagers. By telling teens that they are too young to be making the decision to have sex or not, teens, based on this theory, are likely to read the message and think to themselves “who are these people to tell me whether I am old enough or not to make this decision?” and “who are these people to think that I am not in control of my education just because I have sex?”. These ineffective messages along with contradictory messages from the Candie’s Fashion Brand do nothing to help the Candie’s Foundation succeed in its goal of preventing teen pregnancies.

While the Candie’s Foundation advertises in several magazines and on several popular television stations, the Candie’s Fashion Brand also utilizes the same outlets to promote their products. The messages that are broadcasted through these sources are very contradictory. The overreaching message of the Candie’s Foundation is “Pause Before You Play”, something their website states is to motivate teens to “pause to get a condom” (12). In contrast to this message, a popular commercial for the Candie’s Fragrance features a half dressed man rushing to the bathroom searching for something, as Alyssa Milano waits for him on the bed dressed in lingerie. As the man goes through the various bathroom cabinets and drawers, he bypasses numerous condoms, and eventually grabs the Candie’s Fragrance, returns to the room, and the commercial ends with a clip of the bed shaking. This advertisement, which clearly displays the Candie’s name, completely contradicts the message that the Candie’s Foundation feebly attempts to make.

Studies have shown that contradictory messages from the media have been shown to increase confusion about puberty and sex (17) and that such potential confusion is of particular importance for health content directed at adolescents, given that most teens have not fully developed cognitively and cannot be counted on to take the time to untangle contradictory visual and textual cues (18). The Candie’s Foundation is clearly associated with the Candie’s Fashion Brand, and the contradicting messages that are broadcast through various media outlets further diminish the effect the Candie’s Foundation tries to have with regards to preventing teen pregnancies

Critique Argument 2- Use of Celebrities Along with Statistics:

The Candie’s Foundation states that they use celebrities in all of their ads with which teens can relate to. Some of the celebrities that have participated in the campaign include Bristol Palin, Hayden Panettiere, Beyonce, Ciara, Ashley Tisdale, Hillary Duff and Rachel Bilson- only one of which has a child- Bristol Palin. The target population of this campaign is an assortment of individuals- teenagers of different races, ages, and socioeconomic status, all with different interests, hobbies and ideals. While most, if not all, of the target population is familiar with these celebrities, the majority of teenagers do not actually relate to these famous people. Studies have shown that self-referencing has a positive effect on persuading a person’s behavior to go in a certain direction and it occurs when information is processed by relating it to aspects of oneself (19). Furthermore, an individual is likely to feel that persons with status, values, interest and needs similar to their own see things as they do and judge them from the same point of view (20).

The lack of diversity and the use of celebrities go hand in hand with one another taking away from the message that the foundation sends. Teens are unable to find a connection with the numerous spokespersons that the foundation utilizes, and they are therefore not responsive or they may even respond negatively to the statements made by these celebrities. The National Truth Campaign, which was launched in 2000, uses teenagers of all types of backgrounds to successfully prevent youth from smoking. By using peers with which their target population was able to connect with, this campaign was able to prevent roughly 450,000 adolescents from trying smoking within four years of its first advertisement (21).

Along with using famous people, the Candie’s Foundation simultaneously places bold statistics in their ads with the goal of educating young adults about the seriousness of teen pregnancies. One such statistics, placed alongside Bristol Palin holding her son, states “I never thought I would be a statistic. More than 750,000 teenage girls will become pregnant this year” (12). Unfortunately, these statistics are not relatable to teenagers, and they are unable to fully process the probabilities placed in front of them. The Law of Small Numbers states that people’s perception of risk is distorted and that the use of statistics is ineffective at changing a person’s perception of risk.

The Theory of Optimistic Bias indicates that individuals underestimate the likelihood they will experience adverse events. Another statistic utilized by the Candie’s Foundation is: “if you have unprotected sex, you have an 85% change of getting pregnant within one year” (12). With the intention of educating teens about the consequences of having sex, the campaign does not take into consideration that individuals have a skewed understanding of their chances of experiencing an adverse event. Studies have shown that individuals tend to feel they are not susceptible to events they can control such as alcoholism and tooth decay, feel more susceptible to events they feel the can’t control and ultimately perceive other individuals as susceptible even to risks that can be controlled or prevented (22). It is evident that this statistic does nothing to achieve compliance among teenagers. People do not understand probabilities, and therefore, the use of negative statistics is not powerful enough to elicit behavior changes.

Critique Argument 3- Gender Bias:

If one were to take a quick look at the Candie’s Foundation’s website, it wouldn’t be hard to conclude that the campaign strictly targets females. First, the official website for the foundation has hot pink font which boldly stands out against a black background. Secondly, the majority of the celebrities present in the PSAs are females. In addition to these marketing techniques, the print ads are located in magazines such as Seventeen, Elle, and Teen Vogue- all of which are geared towards females. While the messages being sent by the campaign are reaching the teenage female population, this is only targeting half of the population needed for an effective change in preventing teenage pregnancies.

In a National Survey, six in ten boys believe that teen boys often receive the message that “sex and pregnancy are not a big deal” and 49% of boys and 70% of girls believe that boys receive a different message about sex and pregnancy than girls do (23). Surveys of teenage boys have indicated that the percentage of high school boys who have had four or more sexual partners is more than double the percentage of girls who have had this many partners (24). These facts indicate that it essential to target both teenage girls and boys to effectively prevent teen pregnancies. Evidence shows that programs that target both boys and girls are effective at reducing risky sexual behavior. For example, teens in the Reach for Health (RFH) program that served economically disadvantaged 7th and 8th graders in New York City were more likely to delay sex and were less likely to have had sex in the past several months than teens not in the program. Teens in the Teen Outreach Program (TOP), which served high school students in several states, were less likely to get pregnant or cause a pregnancy than those not in the program (24).

Another important component of teenage pregnancies is that the large majority of them are caused by men older than high school age – 77% of all birth among girls of high school age (16 – 18) and 51% of births among girls of junior high school age (15 and younger) (25). With this in mind, the fact that the Candie’s Foundation does not target this age group of is an additional factor contributing to the unsuccessfulness of the campaign.

In an attempt to further market the idea of not having sex, the Candie’s Foundation sells pink tank tops, which say “Be Sexy- It Doesn’t Mean you have to Have Sex.” While this is an admirable attempt on the behalf of the foundation to educate teens about the consequences of pregnancies, it is a clear example of the lack of needed teen pregnancy education for males. The Social Network Theory is the idea that behaviors spread through social networks (close connections) such as family and friends, and what most determines your behavior is what people in your social network are doing. A 2004 study of the population of students in a Midwestern high school found a sexual and romantic relations network- which included 288 of 832 students interviewed – who were at a much greater risk for contracting an STD than the 544 students not in the network (26). The Candie’s Foundation does not consider the effect that males have in social networks and that by not targeting them in their campaign efforts; they are not targeting half of the problem.

Proposed Redesign for Candies Foundation:

The Candie’s Foundation has a very valuable goal of preventing teen pregnancies, but it is evident that they are unsuccessful at running an effective campaign that elicits behavior changes. Several steps need to be taken to redesign this campaign and to tackle the numerous issues that have been previously addressed. Currently, the Candie’s Foundation focuses too much on using celebrity faces in their public service announcements, and strictly directs their campaign towards females. Several measures need to be taken in order for the Candie’s Foundation to overcome its shortcomings and strengthen its messages. Through restructuring their name, slogans, commercials, print ads and their target population, the Candie’s Foundation will be able to make a positive impact on young adults. The proposed intervention/redesign that follows is highly feasible, inexpensive and properly addresses several social and behavioral theories that the foundation currently uses inappropriately.

Defense of Redesign 1:

First and foremost, the Candie’s Foundation needs to separate itself from the Candie’s Fashion Brand. While it is commendable that this brand aims to positively affect teenagers and their decisions, by having their teen pregnancy campaign share a common name – Candie’s – with a product geared towards adults (>19 years of age) with strong sexually related messages, the campaign does nothing to effectively accomplish its goals. The easiest way for this separation to occur is by changing the name of the foundation. Instead of being called The Candie’s Foundation, simply being called “The Foundation” will be more effective- the name will not be geared towards any one gender, and ultimately and most importantly, it will not be outwardly associated with a brand that sends teenagers conflicting messages. As previously mentioned, adolescents have yet to fully develop cognitively, and are unable to untangle contradicting messages (18). By simply dropping “Candie’s” from its title, the campaign will no longer be sending contrasting messages to teenagers. Once this essential step is complete, the campaign can being to redesign itself such that it effectively utilizes several social and behavioral psychological theories to send out a convincing message to prevent teen pregnancies.

Building off of the need to send the right messages to its target population, the campaign needs to change its slogans. Starting off on a somewhat complimentary note by stating “Be Smart,” the tagline “Too Young to Start” is the demise of a potentially successful slogan. The Candie’s Foundation needs to utilize slogans that promote ideals that are important to teenagers- such as freedom/independence and respect. A simple slogan such as “You are Smart: YOU Control YOUR Future”, boosts the audiences feelings and reception to the slogan due to the complimentary statement of “You are Smart” and goes a step further by supporting the idea of freedom by stating “YOU Control YOUR Future”. This tag line, tells teenagers that yes, they are responsible beings, and that they are in control of their own choices. Furthermore, it does not generate reactance because it indirectly tells teens what to do, as opposed to directly telling them. These new slogans along with the new name: “The Foundation”, will garner compliance by teens as opposed to creating further confusion and resistance.

Defense of Redesign 2:

The prospect theory illustrates that people tend to avoid risk when a positive frame is presented but seek risk if a negative frame is utilized (27). When using negative statistics in a campaign, according to this theory, people are more likely to participate in the negative activity as opposed to the positive one. There is an abundance of statistical information about teenage pregnancies, and for the Candie’s Foundation to effectively use this; they need to make positive statements.

For example, an advertisement that states: “More than 1,000,000 high school girls will not become pregnant this year” is more likely to generate positive feedback and understanding as opposed to a negative advertisement which states the number of teenage girls that will become pregnant. Furthermore, the Candie’s Foundation should use statements such as “4 out of 5 sexually active teenagers use condoms” and “7 out of 10 high school students are not sexually active”. These statistics present positive actions with regards to sexual activity and pregnancies among teenagers.

A huge misconception about sex amongst teenagers is that everyone is doing it. In a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, 68% of 9-12th graders believe that teens their age are sexually experienced, when in reality only 46% have had sex (23). By having a campaign which presents positive statistics, the Candie’s Foundation will be educating teenagers that not everyone is having sex, and further, they will indirectly capture the attention of more teenagers who will feel a connection with these advertisements, because they are what makes up the positive statistics.

Building off of the idea of creating a positive connection between their advertisements and their audience, the Candie’s Foundation needs to redesign their campaign such that it does not solely rely on celebrity faces to make an impact. As previously mentioned, adolescents respond better to others with whom they have commonalities (20). The Truth Campaign, which has been very successful at decreasing smoking among teens, utilizes everyday teenagers making a stand against the tobacco industry, as opposed to using celebrities. The Candie’s Foundation needs new PSAs that incorporate everyday teenagers, from a variety of backgrounds. Print ads need to be made such that they take their audience into consideration.

An advertisement in Seventeen magazine with a picture of a teen girl shopping with her friends, and putting on make-up contrasted with another teen girl who is stuck at home taking care of a baby, takes two essential Social and Behavior Theories into consideration- 1) The idea of self-referencing and 2) Framing of core-values. Since the majority of girls who read Seventeen magazine seek make-up and fashion advice, an add that speaks directly to them and one in which they can relate to will be very influential. Furthermore, this add presents viewers with a strong message about freedom/independence- a very important core-value. By contrasting a care-free teenage girl shopping with her friends, against one stuck at home taking care of a child, without having to have a single written statement, the advertisement indirectly sends the message that having a child takes away ones freedom/independence. By having PSAs designed for different races and for people with different interests, the new campaign will be effective at making an impact on its teenage audience.

Defense of Redesign 3:

To address the issue of a gender bias in this campaign, the Foundation’s website needs to be completely remodeled. The hot pink and black color scheme needs to be replaced with a more neutral design that speaks to both male and female adolescents. Technology is an essential tool for teenagers, and by designing the website such that it contains interactive components that allow teens to not only share their stories, but to also post questions/concerns, the foundation will be able to draw in more teenagers of both sexes. A website that provides teens with the feeling of being a part of a community, will be effective in encouraging these young adults to return to learn new information and to connect/reconnect with others whom they may share similar problems or situations with.

Building off of the idea of community- another way to target both males and females simultaneously is to create gear (shirts, backpacks, hats, stickers, etc) that both sexes can wear. Currently, the campaign only sells pink tank tops, but by including clothing that boys are able to wear, the message the foundation is trying to send will be broadcast on a greater number of individuals, and would also be broadcast to both males and females- both of which are equally involved in preventing teenage pregnancies.

One of the key issues with the current campaign is the location of their print ads. While using magazines such as Seventeen, Teen Vogue and Elle is effective at targeting females, print ads should also be placed in magazines for males such as GQ, Sports Illustrated, and Maximum. Print ads should also be designed such that they target each specific audience. Using proper framing, the foundation could create print ads that address the core values teenagers deem important. For example, a print ad which contrasts a teenage boy with the responsibility of having to care for a child versus a teenage boy who is carefree and does not have a child to take care of, displays the most important core value- freedom. Furthermore, by placing ads in these magazine sources, the foundation would also be targeting older males who have been shown to cause a high proportion of teenage pregnancies. Ads that take core-values into consideration properly frame the issue of teen pregnancies in such a way to ultimately elicit a response of adherence from the target audience. As previously mentioned, studies have proven that targeting males in anti-pregnancy campaigns results not only in a decrease in sexual activity but also in pregnancies (24). Therefore, these marketing changes will make a substantial impact on males, resulting in a behavior change in accordance with the goals of the Candie’s Foundation.


A redesigned pregnancy prevention/safe sex campaign will incorporate the previously mentioned adjustments. The rates of teenage pregnancies in the United States is significantly higher than other developed countries, and for there to be a dramatic change, an effective campaign needs to be present. By remodeling itself, the Candie’s Foundation will become a successful campaign that not only speaks to females, but also to males. The foundation will effectively target teenagers of a diversity of backgrounds and will present information in a way that leads to a positive action (not having sex, having safe sex etc.) as opposed to a negative action (ignoring the campaign and going on conducting the same behaviors).


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