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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