Marriage works is the newest message being spread by Campaign For Our Children (CFOC) targeting the attitudes of 15 to 19 year olds in the hopes of promoting the institution of marriage. This program was launched in 1987 with the goal of lowering rates of teen pregnancy in the United States. According to the website, http://marriageworksusa.com/, “the campaign’s core message is a practical, added-value approach that can be summed up in just two words: Marriage Works”. The CFOC is motivated by academic research that suggests that children are better off being raised by two loving parents in a healthy marriage. Those involved in the campaign believe that they “explain the benefits of marriage in fact-based, no-nonsense ways that teens and adults can understand and respond to. And as the facts demonstrate, the benefits of marriage are compelling and far-reaching” (http://marriageworksusa.com/). Ads featuring this idea can be found across the country on billboards, bus shelters, buses, television, and radio and all of the campaign tag lines can be seen in the image accompanying this post.
I first saw this message on a bus shelter three months ago, one block from my apartment in Washington, D.C., and I was immediately intrigued. The particular ad I viewed was of a white couple with the woman in a traditional wedding dress, and the man in a tuxedo standing in front of a majestic looking church. Without knowing anything about the campaign, it appeared that these two were literally the poster children for marriage, as well as a traditional heterosexual partnership, with a lavish church wedding. The photos have varied spokespersons representing different ethnicities and differing messages, however similar to the campaign title, all of the ads depict a traditional wedding in the attempt to demonstrate marriage (to see all the different ads, visit http://marriageworksusa.com/). In the last three months, this campaign has troubled me – there are days when I see nothing wrong with the ads and days when I think they are offensive. As such, I have not been able to ‘pick a side’ to argue, but this is also the reason I have chosen to write about this topic on our blog. This post is an effort to educate readers who may not be familiar with this campaign, and also open up a dialogue about this idea and the message that the CFOC is promoting.
Prior to reading more about the CFOC, I felt that this campaign was failing to target non-heterosexual people and only speaking to an upper-middle class style wedding. However, learning more about the goals of the campaign made me believe that they were failing in other ways as it is not clear that the ads, words, and photos are speaking to 15 to 19 year olds, rather as I walked down the street at 27 years old, I thought maybe they could be targeting me. One ad says “Married people make more money”. This seems like a phrase that appeals to a large group of people, the majority of whom might be over 20 years old. Further, I can’t imagine that at 15 and pregnant, marriage is always the correct solution for a freshman or sophomore in high school, and I don’t see how this campaign is helping people reach ‘marriage age’ before getting pregnant though that is a goal of the CFOC. And just because people get married doesn’t mean they will actually make more money, be happier, be better parents, or have smarter children.
On the other hand, research indicates that marriage is beneficial and what’s so bad about encouraging people who love each other to get married? The campaign promotes the ideology that families are more economically secure, which, on the whole, they are. Over time, there has been a separation of sex, love, and marriage, three concepts that used to be one in the same. This has led to the stigma of divorce falling by the wayside. Teen pregnancy is even becoming popular as movies like Juno and celebrities like Jamie Lynn Spears show a glamorous, funny side to pregnancy at 16 years old. So what’s so bad about trying to stop these things? Even the fact that the campaign targets heterosexuals has a counter argument in that the homosexual population is not particularly at-risk for having children while they are still children.
So I find myself simultaneously agreeing and disagreeing with the CFOC. Perhaps I should take back my earlier comment about marketing – isn’t the mark of advertising success when people are still thinking, talking about, and disseminating the information that the message provided? Where do you stand?