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Pennzoil pulls its nurse ad in response to outpouring of letters from nurses

Pennzoil nurse adJuly 15, 2004 -- In response to many nurses seeking an end to Pennzoil's ads featuring a nurse, Pennzoil has announced that it will pull all remaining advertisements possible that were slated to appear in a number of US magazines over the coming months. The ad, featured at right, feeds into regressive angelic and arguably "naughty nurse" stereotypes that are harmful to the profession.

Alberto Rivas, Pennzoil's Global Brand Strategy Manager, has been sending form letters to many of those who have written about this recent Travel & Leisure magazine ad. His letters state that "the [ad] was not intended to be offensive in any manner. Please understand that we have the highest regard for nurses..." His letters also vow to remove further advertisements from Travel & Leisure.

But when the Center spoke with Mr. Rivas on the telephone last week, he admitted that up to eight more ads were scheduled to run in various magazines, where Pennzoil "already had commitments," before the end of the year. We urged him to pull all the ads, and Mr. Rivas and the Center had further discussions. In a few days, he came back saying he was able to remove all but three of the remaining advertisements. We again urged removal of all ads. Today, Mr. Rivas stated that, with the exception of the next Travel & Leisure and one other magazine as to which the press deadlines have passed, Pennzoil would pull ALL of the remaining ads! Mr. Rivas asked us to pass along that Pennzoil received your feedback and appreciates it.

So THANK YOU to all of our letter-writers for your efforts in removing these ads! One voice makes a difference. And when we all speak in unison, even the world's biggest corporations listen. Congratulations on your success!

For reference, the letter over 90 of us sent to Pennzoil is below:

Dear Ms. Lynn Elsenhans and Mr. Doug Boyle:

I am writing to urge you to end Pennzoil's use of the advertisement featuring a nurse feeding a tablespoon of oil to an engine such as the one in the June "Travel and Leisure" magazine, and to refrain from the use of nurses in your future advertisements. The wispy young female model in a way outdated, slightly suggestive white nurse's dress is gazing at the engine in a way that could be devotional and/or affectionate. This ad's delicate, regressive vision of nursing plays into angelic and "naughty nurse" stereotypes that are harmful to the nursing profession.

Perhaps you are not aware that we are in the midst of a global nursing shortage of previously unseen proportions that is only expected to worsen over the next two decades. The nursing shortage is one of our most urgent public health crises.

The angelic nursing image, while initially appearing to be a positive depiction of nurses, actually feeds into an image of nurses as superhuman beings who do not need to eat, rest or pay rent. These "angels" can be given an unlimited number of patients and still care for each one flawlessly. This adds to the chronic underfunding of nursing research, education and clinical practice since it is seen as a profession which is all about virtue instead of education and hard work.

Likewise, depicting North America's 3 million registered nurses as female sex objects suggests that our work consists primarily of satisfying the sexual needs of physicians and patients. Such images discourage men and self-respecting, talented women from entering the profession.

In fact, nursing is a distinct science and an autonomous profession. Registered nurses receive 2-10 years of college-level training, and studies have shown that patients' lives depend directly on the availability and qualifications of the nurses who care for them. For instance, one recent study of nurse short-staffing--a primary cause and effect of the shortage--found that when the patient load of a nurse is doubled from 4 to 8, post-operative mortality increases by 31%. In essence, nurses save and improve lives every day. As patients, the less nursing care we have, the more likely we are to die. The nursing shortage affects us all.

Many who display negative images of nurses doubt that such images can really harm the nursing profession. However, as public health professionals at USC's Hollywood, Health and Society project and elsewhere can tell you, entertainment media do affect how people think and act with regard to health issues. A 2000 JWT Communications study found that US youngsters in grades 2-10 got their most striking impression of nursing from the fictional television show "ER," and consistent with that show's physician-centric messages, the youngsters found nursing to be a technical field "like shop," a job reserved for "girls" and one too lowly for private school students. Nursing is none of these things. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that "ER"'s message is so influential that one-third of their viewers use information from the show to make health care decisions. A key reason that nursing is in its current state--understaffed, underfunded and underempowered--is that the work of nurses is undervalued by the general public and health care decision makers, all of whom are consumers of media and advertising.

In addition to removing the Pennzoil nurse advertisement, I also encourage you to make amends to the nursing profession by supporting efforts to improve public understanding of the profession in a tangible way. The Center for Nursing Advocacy, which engages in such efforts, would be happy to assist you. We are confident that organizations such as Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow would also be happy to work with you.

Please be part of the solution to the nursing shortage and the improvement of public health. Help us improve public understanding of nursing at this critical time.

Thank you,

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