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Getting fresher

October 6, 2007 -- Nursing supporters have persuaded Cadbury Schweppes to withdraw a "naughty nurse" television ad its Canadian division had been running for Dentyne Ice gum. The ad showed female nurses being lured into bed with male patients, with the tag line: "Get Fresh." The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) and the Center for Nursing Advocacy started campaigns to persuade the company to change course. We understand that over 1,000 nurses sent letters from RNAO's web site. Over 500 nursing supporters sent letters from the Center's site, and the Center placed many calls to top Cadbury Schweppes executives, leaving long messages explaining that such imagery reinforces a stereotype of workplace sexual availability that contributes to the global nursing crisis. Initially, on October 3, the company sent letters arguing that its ads were causing no harm. But yesterday, the company told the Center and RNAO that it would pull the ads, and consult nurses in creating its future U.S. and Canadian ads involving nurses. Cadbury Schweppes chief executive officer Todd Stitzer also took time out from managing the company's 67,000 employees and $14 billion in annual sales to call the Center from London to explain that he understood our concerns. We thank the company for this unusual level of responsiveness, and hope to work with it to promote a more accurate image of nursing. We believe the results here also show what nurses can do when they advocate collectively, persistently, and passionately.

Click here to play the commercial in broadband or dialup in Quicktime.

See our analysis of the ad.

On September 27, after about a week of working by phone to persuade Cadbury Schweppes to remove the ad, the Center sent a letter explaining our concerns about the naughty nurse ad to the following Cadbury Schweppes executives:

  • Todd Stitzer, CEO
  • Jim Chambers, President, Cadbury Schweppes Americas Confectionery
  • Brad Irwin, President, Cadbury Adams
  • Luisa Girotto, Director, Corporate Communications, Cadbury Adams Canada

The Center also started a campaign, and over the next week, more than 500 nurses and supporters sent letters. 177 of these letters were original. Many of them made powerful points and told moving stories about how this kind of imagery undermines nursing practice. At the same time, the Center continued to place many phone calls to the executives, explaining our concerns to some personally and to most others through very detailed voicemail messages.

At the same time, the RNAO launched its own campaign, and over 1,000 nurses reportedly sent letters to the company from their site, many of them apparently long and original. We understand that RNAO also filed a complaint with Advertising Standards Canada, and that the group was also planning a boycott of all Cadbury Schweppes products.

Cadbury Schweppes initially refuses to withdraw the ad

Despite these initial efforts, in early October the company began sending a letter to those who had written about the Dentyne Ice ad explaining why it would not be pulled. This letter, from "Consumer Relations," expressed regret that writers were unhappy with the ad, but offering the following arguments:

The advertisement was designed to emphasize what Dentyne Ice offers - great breath freshening - in a humorous way. We have produced a number of such advertisements for Dentyne, this being the most recent, where fresh breath makes for a great attraction, first impression, or first kiss. ... We are committed to responsible advertising, and that is why the decision to run any advertisement is made only after we test it with a broad sample of consumers. We carefully consider their feedback, and in the case of this particular advertisement the test results were very positive. We tested this advertisement across a broad range of Canadians aged 18 - 50 years old. Their primary takeaway from the advertisement is a clear message on breath freshening. There is no indication from this general cross section of Canadians that the advertisement is negative or pejorative.

However, the ad did not simply present the gum as breath-freshening. It suggested that the breath-freshening was alone sufficient to get nurses who had never before met these patients to become physically romantic. It did not suggest that it was just a case of the girlfriends of these men becoming more interested in them because of the gum. Nor did it suggest that members of both genders were subject to this effect, or even that it was just random women anywhere. It focused on female members of a predominantly female profession, who have been subject to a specific and enduring professional stereotype of easy sexual availability and frivolousness.

The market testing is irrelevant. Average members of the public may have trouble picking up on how ads like this degrade nursing, after a lifetime of ingesting this same stereotype and related assumptions. Many stereotypes only have a strong conscious impact on the immediate victims, in this case nurses, and it's not surprising that others who have never thought about it would be unaware. Nursing stereotypes in particular have not been carefully considered, and so it is even less likely that the average person will be sensitive to them. Of course, this lack of conscious awareness does not mean the ad will not subtly reinforce the stereotype that nurses are sexually available twits.

The Center redoubled its efforts to explain why the company's initial defenses of the ads were faulty, with a further series of calls to the executives. Meanwhile, nurses and supporters continued to send powerful letters.

 Cadbury Schweppes gets fresher, agrees to withdraw the ad

On October 5, Cadbury Schweppes Canada sent the following letter to the Center and a substantially identical one to RNAO. The letter, from Canadian corporate communication director Luisa Girotto, read in part:

We tested the Dentyne Ice ad before approving it, and it was very well received, and we relied on the strength of the test results when we originally advised you we would continue to run the ad.

We have since understood the perspective of nurses, and we want to correct the situation. We never intended to offend nurses. Indeed, we have a great deal of respect for nurses and the valuable work they do.

Your feedback and the emails we received from nurses explaining their perspectives were important to us, and we heard your request to stop airing the ad. I'm confirming that we have decided to stop airing the Dentyne Ice ad. We expect this withdrawal from the airways will be complete within the next two to three days.

Furthermore, we will commit to you that if we have nurses in our future Canadian or U.S. advertising, we will test the ads in advance with nurses. We're making this decision to support your overall goal of fair depiction of nurses in the media.

In summary, we welcomed hearing from nurses to truly understand the situation, we respect the important and good work nurses do, and we hope you're pleased to hear about the withdrawal and our additional commitment to future advertising. Thank you for your patience and commitment, and please extend our very best wishes to your membership.

Also on October 5, Cadbury Schweppes CEO Todd Stitzer called Center director Sandy Summers from London and left a voicemail. Mr. Stitzer wanted to be sure we knew that the ads would be pulled, and to convey that he understood our concerns about the nursing image. We anticipate speaking with Mr. Stitzer this week, and we will thank him and encourage further constructive steps.

We want to thank you!

Nurses and supporters got the attention of the leaders of this huge corporation because they spoke up and would not be deterred. We thank all those who wrote, especially those who took the time to send original thoughts. We read each original letter and in many cases sat here thinking--"how could the company not find these persuasive?" Apparently it did. Nurses told how the naughty nurse stereotype affected them, and how it affected the care they could deliver, using specific examples and persuasive arguments. Many thanks go to Marguerite Thomas (Ontario), Karla Monroe (Indiana), Mandy Mayling (Los Angeles) and the Nazareth College of Rochester for invigorating their local communities to take action.

We also want to thank RNAO and its Executive Director Doris Grinspun and Director of Communications Marion Zych for the great work in generating so many letters, and for their other creative steps, including filing a complaint with the advertising board and the planned boycott.

Thank Cadbury Schweppes, and encourage the company to excel

We thank Cadbury Schweppes for paying attention to our concerns (albeit belatedly) and acting to limit the damage from this ad. We have reason to hope that the company will make an effort to avoid stereotypical nurse imagery in the future. We are especially encouraged by Cadbury Schweppes's promise to test future Canadian and U.S. ads involving "nurses" with actual nurses.

Please send Cadbury Schweppes executives a follow-up message to thank them for pulling the ad. Please encourage them to follow through on the promise to consult nurses about future advertising. You may also wish to ask the company to run a positive commercial featuring nurses (send them your ideas!). And you may want to encourage the company to make amends to nursing in tangible ways, perhaps through support for nursing schools or improvements in clinical settings. Please click here to send a thank you message! Thank you and congratulations for your great work.


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