Is Katherine Heigl’s “I Hate Balls” Campaign a Good One?

I have been watching this campaign with great interest. I think it’s definitely “gone viral,” which is admirable. I don’t know anything about Katherine Heigl; I don’t think I’ve seen any of her movies—I just recognize her as a celebrity. So I don’t have any bias against her one way or the other. I think the spot is really really funny.  To me it was OBVIOUS that she was being over the top. I mean, I don’t think anyone would watch this and actually thinks she wants to rule the world and castrate all men! I think it’s pretty clear that she is being really overt in making her point.

They’ll get some donations (and a lot of hate mail), and they’ll sell some shirts. But they want people to think about neutering. Admittedly, it’s only focused on male dogs—but that’s OK. Good PR campaigns are specific and targeted. It’s not insulting or condescending (“You’re stupid/a bad person because your dog isn’t neutered”) like so many animal welfare campaigns can be.

One question I have is whether this is getting attention ONLY from those of us in the animal welfare world—because we find it an interesting point of conversation and debate—or if it’s getting beyond “preaching to the choir” and reaching the general public. There’s really not a way to measure its efficacy; I guess if spay/neuter clinics around the country had a giant spike in neuter requests, we might have something, but I don’t think we’ll see anything like that.

It didn’t really give any compelling REASONS as to why you should neuter, like the health and behavioral benefits; it just talked about balls being gross (Clearly catering to a female audience!). But again, it’s tongue-in-cheek humor, so I forgive it that. If it gets people talking and thinking, that’s the ticket.

I don’t believe that any singular campaign is going to make people suddenly change their mind and neuter their dog. If someone hadn’t ever thought about it before, then it might cause them to look a little deeper. If they’re OPPOSED or resistant to neutering, though, I don’t think this (or any other campaign by itself) is going to change their minds.

Ad campaigns alone generally don’t change behavior.

However, pieces and campaigns like this, like the Shelter Pet Project, like HSUS’s Spay Day, PETA’s ABC campaign, all put together over time—that’s what makes a difference. If public will can be shaped by advertising, if social norms can be adjusted based on media’s portrayal of what’s cool and what’s acceptable (and also what the celebrities we look up to support), then this is part of the movement that will eventually cause change.

Look at what is happening to stop bullying in schools. Look at what is happening to the use of words like “gay” and “retarded” to mean “dumb.” When I was a kid, we used those words without a second thought, and if we were picked on, adults told us to get over it and turn the other cheek. In a single generation, all of that (and much more) has changed.

You can argue whether that’s for better or worse, but the fact is, it’s true. So if enough campaigns can work their collective magic on the American psyche, then perhaps having an unneutered dog will soon be a huge social faux pas. We’re human, but we’re animals; by nature, we want to fit in and be accepted. So we generally do what is considered acceptable by our communities. If our neighbors and friends all neuter…we will too.

So was the campaign effective? People are talking about it, so one one level, that IS success. Will it motivate people to take action and neuter their dogs? Some, sure. But what is enough to make it “successful?” If ten people neuter their dogs? 100? 1000? Who decides?

Will people donate to the foundation? Some will—some people will love the campaign. Others will hate it and withdraw their support. All of these things happen every time an organization steps outside the box with marketing. You take any kind of risk, and you will alienate some supporters. But you’ll also get new ones. The key is to keep more than you lose! To me, this scenario is far better than “playing it safe” every time and staying stagnant.

I give this campaign an A+. What do you think? Would you use it in your organization? Has it given you any good ideas for campaigns of your own?

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12 Responses to Is Katherine Heigl’s “I Hate Balls” Campaign a Good One?

  1. Hope December 6, 2011 at 7:52 am #

    Katherine Heigl & her mother started a rescue organization in memory of her 15 yr old brother who was a animal lover & died as the result of a car crash. Because of her celebrity status she’s had great success with the group – I never gave her much thought as an actress, but when I heard about her rescue efforts I was impressed. I give her credit for this ‘out of the box’ marketing idea and think anything that gets people talking and sharing her campaign is a good thing. “We” in rescue already know the message she’s trying to send, but by sharing it on Facebook, our “non-rescue” friends may click on it to see what Katherine’s up to – some will be turned off by it, some will think it’s funny and move on, and for some a light may come on and they’ll think about neutering (and maybe spaying as well)…
    I recently helped a young single mom get settled in a new apt after living in a homeless shelter here in Dallas – she has 2 unaltered chihuahuas (male/female) and it just never occurred to her to get them S/N (I think part of it is a cultural background thing & another is just other more “important’ priorities). Now that she knows there are low cost options available she’ll get them taken care of. Any way to educate people on the importance of S/N is a good thing – not everyone will like Heigl’s campaign, but it will most certainly get people thinking!

  2. Caroline December 7, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    Any campaign that is anti-breeding and pro-sterilization with a celebrity is a good thing.

    However, I think this campaign, like most campaigns, is weak. Some subtitling with statistics and some shelter footage or depiction of how many puppies those “balls” are to blame for dying would have made the message meatier.

    It seems like big organizations try to put out messages and videos that are vanilla enough to be passed along and shared, but not too targeted to really say, hey, what YOU are doing is wrong. YOU and YOUR dog’s balls are responsible for bad things happening to puppies down the road, perpetuating the cycle.

    But again – any pretty face talking about the issue is time well spent and a good start.

  3. Emily Garman December 8, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    Thanks to Caroline and Hope for your thoughtful comments!

    I never like the sad, maudlin ads for the ASPCA (Sarah McLachlan). They are so sad, so devastating…I just look away. of course I know about the problem, but these just overwhelm me and make me feel hopeless. So I don’t know if that kind of video would be effective. It’s interesting. I think this kind of video goes “viral,” and people share it and talk about it, but the message may be kind of lost. The other kind of video is sad, and doesn’t get much exposure…but it gets the message across loud and clear. So maybe there is a happy medium somewhere! I think the Shelter Pet Project‘s ads are fantastic. Funny, but also very on point and tongue in cheek.

  4. Bill December 9, 2011 at 7:01 am #

    I appreciate her efforts to help animals. However, this commercial is in incredibly poor taste. Saying “it’s a joke” doesn’t change that. If you don’t see this, simply change “I hate balls” to “I hate boobs”, and see if you don’t agree.

  5. Gordon December 11, 2011 at 7:00 am #

    The Ihateballs campaign is deeply offensive to men and a double standard. Saying it is a joke does not make it one, a joke is a funny as those it ‘poke fun’ at find it.

    Lets see how funny people find a spaying campaign making fun of female genital mutilation in Africa.

  6. daniel December 19, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    Gross. I will never neuter my pets just out of spite to the people supporting such a disgusting video.

    The indifference of the writer and the women commenters to men’s feelings and lack of any basic respect to men’s body is just amazing. Well, maybe not that amazing since male circumcision is legal (while any form of female circumcision is illegal) and Lorena Bobbit was a feminist hero.

  7. Emily Garman December 19, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    This is so interesting! It seems like people who are involved in animal welfare like the campaign, but people outside “the industry” don’t. Since those are the people (like you, Daniel) we’re trying to reach, it seems like this campaign may have really missed the mark! I appreciate everyone’s feedback.

  8. Susan March 3, 2012 at 7:23 am #

    As someone within the animal welfare community, I think some of my colleagues like it because it’s snarky, and it’s a way to channel anger. However I also felt it was very insensitive to men, as if it were OK to bash on the whole concept of testicles as bad, and maleness as well, for the sake of animals. I watched it once to learn what it was about, gave some mental points to her for caring, but I did not share it, and probably would not. My mother and many of my donors would probably be disgusted if they saw it, and I go out of my way not to piss off my mother or my donors. 😉

  9. Dean March 5, 2012 at 1:15 am #

    Err no Emily I think you missed the mark with your response to ‘Daniel’.

    It’s not because he’s ‘outside the industry’, it’s because he’s male that he finds it offensive and we have to constantly put up with this bashing in the media.

    What would be the response to an ‘I hate vaginas’ campaign? Would you be laughing then? How about an ad that says ‘I hate fags’ or ‘I hate blacks’ or ‘I hate trannies’? Do you also think that t shirts aimed at young girls bearing the slogan ‘Boys are stupid. Throw rocks at them’ are ‘funny’? This has to stop.

    Katherine Heigl is an evil little misandrist as far as I’m concerned and I hope her efforts don’t raise her a single cent

  10. Kimberly May 8, 2013 at 12:53 am #

    I applaud Heigl for trying, but I gotta say, F*CKI! …I don’t think this is the best way to get the message across. As a female “in the industry” for some years, this ad makes me uncomfortable because of (A) the theme of emasculation, and (B) related, the needless adversarial position created between male and female. Additionally, I must point out that Heigl has recently appeared in some “least-liked celebrities” lists, so overall I’m hesitant to say whether this ad is really helpful or not. “Industry” people, or, anyone with a brain really, will recognize that female pet spaying is more important than male neutering; 10 fertile males sharing a room with 1 fertile female can potentially produce only one litter, but 10 females with one male can potentially produce 10 litters. As such, it IS more useful to target owners of female pets (which in my experience, tend to be female themselves, and likewise owners of male pets tend to be males themselves), but again, I DON’T think the best way to accomplish this is to champion a position that makes genders needlessly adversarial. If I’d been directing this project, I’d have taken a diff approach; imagine if you will…

    A dog park, wherein Girl A and Guy B are hitting it off, until they notice their respective pets are trying to mate. In response Guy B smirks and says “don’t worry, you’ll have some pretty pups in a few months.” Girl A scoffs and say “thanks, but she’s fixed, and… we gotta wash our hair, cya!” and leaves with her pet, disgusted. Next scene, same place but a few weeks/months later, same situation, except this time with a diff guy; Guy A reacts, “don’t worry, he’s fixed!” Girl A responds, relieved and intrigued, “mine too, of course!” Shared smiles all around, and then Girl A suggests they hit a pup-friendly happy hour together. Guy A accepts, and on their triumphant exit they pass Girl B, sad-looking with a cardboard box full of pups, shooting eye-daggers at Guy B who’s entering the park very ungracefully with his dog vigorously humping his leg. ~Fin~

    The underlying message in my imaginary ad is one that links pets’ morality with the owners’, and therefore appeals to all self-respecting males and females alike, and likewise denigrates male and female pet owners with a “slut” mentality alike (or rather, sluts that don’t take precautions at least). By contrast, Heigl’s ad denigrates males in general, and even goes so far as to further emasculate a male that has committed to a relationship… not a good look IMHO.

  11. Emily Garman May 8, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    Kimberly, I LOVE LOVE LOVE your rework of the spot! Definitely gets the message across, but in a less confrontational way. However, I think the point here was to make headlines and get people talking. If THAT was its goal, then I think it did accomplish that.

    I think about PETA and a lot of the things they do. The message is almost lost in their desire to get crazy coverage and media attention. It’s become about the spectacle and the confrontation, rather than the underlying (and usually simple) message.

    A very interesting discussion, for sure!

  12. Robert May 27, 2014 at 9:59 am #

    I first saw the video a few weeks ago. I would agree Katherine was over the top but it sure got people talking. I think it was focused on the female audience and the women I talked to love the video! (After my girlfriend saw the video she teased me about cutting off my balls.) A couple of days later she donated to Katherine’s foundation and took her dog to the vet and had his balls cut off.
    I think that the video will work as women have so much power in relationships and if the woman decides Spot’s balls have got to go then Spot is going to lose his balls.
    As my girlfriend now says, ” Off with his balls!”

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