5 Idiotic Health Campaigns That Backfired (Hilariously)
Can you imagine how unhealthy we'd be if we didn't have large organizations spending millions on public health campaigns? If we didn't have them to herd us around with their slogans and posters, our lives would be a nightmare of illicit drugs and bad choices.
Shockingly, however, these well-meaning programs sometimes don't work out so well.
The D.A.R.E. Program May Increase Drug Use
Damn near every school kid in the United States has been forced to sit through the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program (D.A.R.E.) at least once. Good ol' Officer Friendly shows up once a month or so and leads the class through obnoxious skits intended to give them an idea what peer pressure is like and how to avoid it. Spoiler alert! You avoid it by just saying "no!"
Apparently, that works for everything from drugs to unwanted sexual advances to strong-armed robbery. But it's more than just saying no, the program aims to equip young people with "creative" ways by which to say it. For the record, we generally incorporate some sort of interpretive dance when we spurn unwanted offers of sex and drugs. But we don't dance that often, if you know what we mean, ladies.
On the surface, encouraging kids to say no to drugs seems like a fine idea. What could go wrong?
It would be hard to actually know how well a program like D.A.R.E. was working unless you, say, kept track of a thousand or so kids who went through the program and then caught up with them 10 years later. So that's exactly what some people did.
Two separate studies, the results of which were prominently reported by TIME, indicated that at the very least D.A.R.E. was ineffective, but at its worst actually pushed kids toward drug use and lowered self esteem. Researchers suspect that the overstated, "peer pressure is around every corner, because EVERYONE IS DOING DRUGS BUT YOU!" message made some kids actually want to get high as a way of fitting in. If everyone else is doing it, why shouldn't they?
Look at you, just saying no to drugs, and friends, and a well-adjusted childhood.
The studies argued that the program's use of "drugs are everywhere, fucking run!" type of messages amounted to hyperbole, and kids don't like hyperbole. All it takes is the kid having one drug-using friend for him to recognize that, no, a single bong hit can't make your brain go running out of your ears like strawberry jam. And if that part is wrong, hell, maybe the whole thing is.
When are we going to figure out that even kids have bullshit detectors?
England's Beat Bullying Campaign Gets Kids Beaten
Remember that one time when we all had this big problem and then we bought a bunch of wristbands and it went away? England's Beat Bullying campaign hoped to replicate that success in their fight against the generations-old problem of surly douchebags at school.
The idea behind the program was to sell blue wristbands that kids would wear to school to signify that they thoroughly reject bullying in all its forms, be it a physical attack, like the dreaded swirlie for example, or a more subtle form, like a YouTube video of your mom earning her "coolest" title the hard way with a group of your classmates. Kids weren't going to take it anymore. Unlike that mom of yours, who takes it all the time (if you know what we mean).
Even celebrities got in on the act, buying up wristbands by the boatload and wearing them to prominent events. We know what you're going to ask. The answer is yes, there is a picture of Bono coming up. Right now, in fact.
"Yeah, one punch and the little nerd went down. Then I took this bracelet from him."
In February of 2005, David Beckham handed out the millionth wristband to 13-year-old Jess Sparrow, who happily proclaimed "I'm here with David Beckham. It's fantastic. I hope no one has to suffer bullying ever again." Nope, that should about take care of it. Thanks, Beckham!
When trying to avoid the wrath of the school bully, it's best to not do anything that may attract their attention, like buying royal blue wristbands for yourself and everyone else in your World of Warcraft guild to wear to school. Almost immediately after the program was implemented in the nation's schools, kids wearing the blue wristband were, naturally, targeted by bullies.
One reason kids were targeted was because of the scarcity of the bracelets. The campaign was so popular at its launch that supplies of the "Beat Bullying" wristbands quickly sold out. Prices on eBay skyrocketed, reaching $32 each. Not a bad day's haul for an enterprising young bully.
Even when strong armed robbery wasn't involved, kids were just targeted because they were wearing the wristband. According to one student, "They basically thought 'Hey! Everyone who's wearing a wristband must be scared of bullying!' So they decided to bully the people wearing wristbands. So, it's made a difference, but not a good one." A ringing endorsement for a campaign that continues to this day.
Nebraska's "Give Us Your Troubled Child" Law Somehow Backfires
"Safe haven" laws are nothing new, they just say that a parent can drop their infant child off at any hospital with no questions asked, if for some reason they feel they are not fit to care for the child. They are often referred to as "Baby Moses Laws" after the ancient story of Baby Moses being left in a wicker basket hidden in tall grass to keep him from being slain by the Israelites. The current safe haven laws are in place for the exact same reason, except these days the "Israelites" are called "shitty moms who throw their kids in dumpsters," as adorably depicted in the photo below.
It really is a noble program, and has probably saved countless infants from an unnecessary and cruel demise. The operative word there being "infants."
In most states, safe haven laws have an age limit of anywhere from 30 to 60 days. That's why, although they've been around for some time, most safe haven laws don't cause a multiple episodes of Dr. Phil generating a shit storm of outrage. Not so with the Nebraska Safe Haven law. The problems with the Nebraska version of safe haven began pretty much the minute some dipshit decided that including an age limit wasn't really necessary. Technically, under the original version of the Nebraska Safe Haven law, any child could be dropped off by their parents and the state had to take them in.
"My mom says she can't take care of me anymore. Can I have a beer?"
This fact was not lost on scores negligent parents, who suddenly began arriving from as far away as Florida to drop off their ill-mannered and mentally troubled youngsters. But the shit really hit the fan when a 34-year-old man dropped nine, yes, NINE kids off at a Nebraska hospital, ranging in age from one to 17. Before state officials had time to amend the law, more parents were showing up with teenagers in tow.
Naturally, like all moral uproars in the United States, the Nebraska Safe Haven law uproar prompted Dr. Phil to chime in with his condescending two cents. If only there was somewhere we could drop him off...
California's "Healthy Lunchbox" Program, Now with Lead
Breaking news: Kids are fat! Many of them anyway. If you remember the days when a small group of overweight kids roamed the halls having their lives made miserable at the hands of the svelte majority, it's been a long time since you were in school. These days, the fat kids are the majority. That's what happens when your school lunch menu boasts items like "White Chocolate Macadamia Foodloaf" and "Chewy Runt Nachos."
Also delicious on salads.
Facing a potentially drastic plunge in the amount of hot ass strolling the future streets of Los Angeles, the state of California decided to take action against childhood obesity with the Healthy Lunchbox Campaign. The idea behind the program was pretty simple. Hundreds of thousands of lunch bags emblazoned with various reminders to eat healthy were handed out to California school kids.
Did the kids read or pay any attention to the messages on the bags? Probably not. Did they use the bags to haul Cheetos and cans of Jolt Cola to school? Most likely. But that's not the problem here.
We consulted with our team of scientists and they did confirm that giving kids bags to haul goodies around in probably won't help with the problem of childhood obesity. We had to do that because California never got to the "is this shit working?" stage with their program. Just a couple of months into the school year, the Sacramento County Public Health Department ran tests on the free lunch bags and found that they were tainted with lead. A shocking development, considering the bags were made in China.
With the knowledge that their lunch bags were filled with unhealthy levels of sweet, delicious, brain damage-causing lead, government officials leaped into action. Just joking, they actually waited two fucking months before issuing a recall. They defended their delayed response by saying that they had to wait for "more confirmation tests." And who are we to judge? Maybe those first few tainted bags belonged to those weird kids who smell like piss and sniff markers all day.
When the additional testing excuse failed to please irate parents, the Consumer Product Safety Commission fell back on a stone cold classic excuse: Blame George Bush. Because of budget cuts by the Bush administration, they claimed to be short on funds and staff. Apparently, typing up a letter informing people that their kids are hauling around lead lunch bags and shooting it off to news agencies is a pretty labor intensive effort. We can sympathize, it took eight Cracked staffers 17 months just to write this one paragraph.
A Tobacco Company's Anti-Smoking Campaign Somehow Fails
Launched in 1999 by the tobacco company Phillip Morris, the Talk: They'll Listen campaign was intended to encourage parents to talk to their kids about smoking. An anti-smoking campaign run by a tobacco company? Brilliant! What could possibly go wrong?
According to Phillip Morris research, the program was a success. A survey of 1,000 parents of kids aged 10-17 showed that 60 percent of the parents were aware of the ads. Of those parents, 54 percent had discussed smoking with their child. The statistics don't indicate how many of those discussions involved parents asking to borrow cigarettes from their kids.
Tobacco companies are a sly bunch. While the intent of the program seemed legit, critics argued that the real purpose of the program was to encourage teen smoking. As anyone who has ever raised a teenager can confirm, telling a teen they can't do something usually just makes them want to do it even more. Also confirmed, telling high school chicks they are absolutely forbidden from celebrating their 18th birthday by sleeping with well hung Internet comedy writers is a sure way to summon the police. Especially when you follow it up with a wink and the double barreled finger point.
Anyway, it was exactly this type of reverse psychology that was at work in the Talk: They'll Listen campaign. Instead of relying on the mountains of health reasons why smoking is bad, the basic message here was "teens shouldn't smoke... because they're teens." Exactly the kind of shit kids like to hear. According to a study of youths in the 10th-12th grade range, they were 12 percent more likely to smoke for each parent targeted ad they had seen in the last 30 days.
Phillip Morris representatives would not comment on the findings, presumably because they were preoccupied with booze soaked celebrating and harvesting souls for the devil.