Chicago officials have birthed a controversy with a new campaign that critics say unfairly targets the city's young boys.
The billboard series titled "Unexpected" shows teenage males with their bellies protruding as if they're pregnant. A similar campaign ran in Milwaukee using the provocative images and now Chicago has rolled them out.
The campaign's message is that girls aren't the only ones that bear responsibility for the city's pregnancy rate, which has decreased 33% over the past decade, according to the city's Department of Public Health, but still remains higher than the national average.
The campaign launched this week on buses, bus shelters and trains. Billboards have also gone up in neighborhoods that have a high rate of teen pregnancies. The city says responses to the images on the billboards mean one thing: Success.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Brian Richardson, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Health, said. “We’ve seen huge increases to our Facebook and Twitter accounts and huge media coverage, which is good because the entire goal was to raise awareness about a very important issue.”
Indeed many of the responses have been in support: "I like it. It's different," said Melissa W., a commenter on Fox Chicago's Facebook page.
"It’s a challenge today to be able to cut through all of the noise,” Richardson added. “And our goal was to cut through and get people talking about this issue, it’s more than just a teen girl issue, it’s an entire community issue, and the ability to start that conversation is the goal.”
However, many people are unhappy -- and even offended -- by what they see as an attack on a group of people.
“Can we please create teen pregnancy awareness campaigns that do not shame transgender people who become/are pregnant?” posted Jessi E on the department’s Facebook page. “Very disappointed in the Chicago Department of Public Health for doing this.”
On Fox News Chicago’s Facebook page, Sue T said: “Horrible message and image. Not a funny life event. Ridiculous. And, the life changing possibility of becoming pregnant once teens become sexually active is NOT about the temporary inconvenience of a round belly-it IS about bringing a life into this world that requires money, love, time, energy and sacrifice. Put THAT into a visual billboard, not an impossible image that won't build empathy. OMGOSH-who came up with this????"
"The billboard is definitely a head turner and will get a lot of attention,” says blogger Danyelle Little, who runs The Cubicle Chick, which touches on work, parental and maternal issues. “But will it actually hit home and act as a catalyst to lower teen pregnancy in the city of Chicago? Probably not.”
Officials in the Windy City see it as a win-win.
"If people start talking about the issue because of the ads, then we’ve done our job. And furthermore this campaign is part of a much larger effort they’re taking to provide teens the resources they need to make decisions for their own health and well being," Richardson said. "We know that teen moms are less likely to graduate high school, their daughters are even less likely to graduate. Their sons are more likely to go to jail. So we want to make sure people know what’s going on.
“People have found the ad shocking and provocative and unexpected, so that’s why we call it 'Unexpected,'" Richardson said. "In Chicago, the teen birth rates have declined at a faster rate across the nation. That said, we still have a challenge, so we need to keep it up.”
What do you think? Are these controversial Chicago ads just what the doctor ordered, or should these ads go belly-up?