Billboards in Massachusetts

Boston – FRAMINGHAM The MetroWest Community Health Care Foundation, which launched a campaign targeting childhood obesity Monday, decided to can a later version of its billboard ads because it showed “too much skin.”

The campaign targeting parents to showcase the dangers of ignoring their children’s obesity, includes billboard, television and newspaper ads that point parents to the Web site, www.MetroWestKids.org. There parents can learn about the illnesses linked to obesity and weight-loss remedies.

While the first run of billboards, showing overweight ankles and feet standing on a scale, will be up by the end of this week and remain posted through most of February, the foundation is rethinking a later version of the ads slated for March. The third version of ads was to show an obese teenager’s back with the text, “If that’s your kid, what are you waiting for.” The image was published with a Daily News article Sunday to illustrate the foundation’s campaign.

“We’re going to rethink the billboard with the boy’s back,” said Martin Cohen, president and chief executive of the philanthropic foundation set up from the sale of MetroWest Medical Center. “We had some thoughts about redoing that one because some people think that one is offensive.”

The advertising agency that created the billboards, Inside Out Communications of Holliston, is already brainstorming new ideas for its replacement, according to Kate Billigmeier, account executive for the foundation’s campaign.

“The foundation had decided to pull it because it was maybe too much skin,” Billigmeier said. “(It) is going to be replaced. It might be more of a text (ad) instead of an image.”

Catharine Curran-Kelly, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, called the ads a “fear campaign,” which only work for people who do not have a problem.

“If you don’t have obese kids, are you going to look at this and say, I don’t want my child to ever look like that’ – probably” Curran-Kelly said.

“It probably won’t get the response they want from the parents they want it from, just because the tendency for them would be to argue against it.”

Reports yesterday that the billboard campaign would be pulled after backlash from the public appeared not to be the case.

“No, that’s not true at all,” Cohen said yesterday. “We are committed to this round of billboards, and the rest will continue to evolve as the campaign continues.”

The first version of the company’s ads, installed yesterday on a billboard near Edgell Road facing Rte. 9 East, will remain posted through most of February, Billigmeier said. Copies of the ad will be posted – by the end of the week – south facing on Concord Street in Framingham, east facing on Farm Road in Marlborough, north facing on Edinboro Street in Marlborough, and east facing on Washington Street in Holliston, she said.

The second version of the ads, which is yet to be designed, will be posted the week of Feb. 26 and will run through much of March, and a third version, which the foundation decided to alter, will be installed the week of March 26 and will run through April. Another billboard is set for James Street in Ashland for the week of April 23, when the site becomes available, she said.

Around Framingham yesterday, reaction was mixed to the first rendition of the ad now posted and the third version that was axed.

“I think it would have quite an impact. I’m a father of two children myself, and I would be concerned if they were overweight,” said Michael Prindle of Arlington outside the MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham. “I think the campaign is good. It’s direct and to the point.”

Elizabeth Harris of Framingham said she paid for her daughter’s gym membership because she was not getting enough exercise at school, but found the photograph of the young person’s back to be “pretty bad.”

“I don’t think they need to go to this extreme; it’s a little over the edge,” Harris said.

Eric Siegel of Southborough said he “can certainly appreciate public commentary, but I’m not sure billboards are the right avenue for this type of advertising.” He said the better place to address the issue was with the school boards.

Stanley Ravinski said, “I think that should go up there,” about the back image. “People are getting too chubby.”

(Andrew J. Manuse can be reached at [email protected] or 508-626-3964.)


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