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Think Before You Speak (2008-2010)

Ad Council case history

In 2008, The Advertising Council partnered with The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to launch a multimedia public service advertising campaign addressing the use of anti-gay language among teens.  It aims not only to raise awareness among straight teens about the prevalence and consequences of anti-LGBT bias and behavior in America’s schools, but ultimately to reduce and prevent the use of homophobic language in an effort to create a more positive environment for LGBT teens.  The campaign also aims to target adults, including school personnel and parents, to contribute to the success of efforts to change behavior among the target age group.

In the U.S., LGBT teens experience homophobic remarks and harassment throughout the day, creating an atmosphere where they feel disrespected, unwanted and unsafe.  GLSEN’s survey found that 9 in 10 reports hearing anti-LGBT language frequently or often and 75% of LGBT teens hear slurs such as “faggot” or “dyke” frequently or often.  Homophobic remarks, such as “that’s so gay”, are the most commonly heard within schools and although are often unintentional, they do carry over into more overt harassment.

The campaign, created pro bono by ad agency Arnold NYC, includes television, radio, print, outdoor, and Web advertising.  The ads feature scenarios in which the term “that’s so gay” is used casually in an effort to help teens recognize that their anti-LGBT language is actually harmful and conclude with urging teens to “knock it off”.  They lead the audience to the website, www.ThinkB4YouSpeak.com, and urge visitors to take a stand against anti-LGBT language.

With the campaign’s initial success within the first year, the Ad Council and GLSEN launched a harder-hitting second phase of the campaign in December 2009 that focused directly on the consequences of anti-gay language.  This phase not only capitalized more on the campaign’s initial viral success, but also featured more provocative banner ads and thought-provoking materials.  One example is a banner ad that recalls the story of Carl Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old from Massachusetts, who took his life after enduring constant bullying at school.

After the initial launch of the campaign, a survey was taken showing that general awareness about stopping to think before saying “that’s so gay” significantly increased from only 16% in 2008 to 23% in 2009.  The survey also showed that 61% of teens in 2009 understood the harmful consequences of saying “that’s so gay” vs. only 57% in 2008.  Continuing the campaign’s success, in 2009-2010, the campaign website averaged over 39K visits per month.  “Think Before You Speak” started a conversation about the harmful effects of anti-LGBT language, but there is still more to accomplish in showing and forcing people to understand and confront the consequences of the words they use.

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