That’s the question The New York University Child Study Center must be asking itself in regards to its new public awareness campaign about childhood mental illness, in New York City. The problem? Their “edgy” advertising may have gone too far and alienated the very parents they were seeking to provide outreach to.

The New York Times has the story in today’s paper. They note how parents of autistic children, led by folks like Autism Vox, have created an online petition to object to the ad campaign. What’s the problem?

Well, the wording of some of the ads, to begin with.

The autism ad reads,

We have your son.

We will make sure he will not be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives.

This is only the beginning.


Or how about the ADHD ad:

We are in possession of your son. We are making him squirm and fidget until he is a detriment to himself and those around him. Ignore this and your kid will pay.


I don’t know… Those seem like pretty drastic ways to get people’s attention. They’re pretty much telling parents, “Get help, seek treatment, or your child will be screwed up for the rest of his life.” More extreme than is necessary, and factually incorrect to boot.

BBDO’s earlier ads for the Child Study Center — which included images of a child running happily through a sprinkler and a drawing of a child caught in a maze — “were wonderful, but they didn’t get this kind of attention from anyone,” Dr. Koplewicz [the director of the center] said. “They were too pleasant and innocuous.”

Surely there must be something in between the fuzzy, feel-good ads, and these, no? Unless the whole point was to get increased media coverage of the “controversy,” which provides a far better reach than any paid advertising. (Even my normally cynical self can’t believe they did this intentionally to get media attention.)

Yeah, you got yourselves a winner there, NYU Child Study Center. You might want to rethink this campaign a bit and not try and frighten people into action. Especially if what you’re using to frighten them with is a broad generalization and exaggeration.