TIME Advertising

One Fashion Brand Takes the ‘No Photoshop Pledge,’ Who’s Next?

ModCloth is the first retailer to officially promise not to retouch its models, but its not the only company eschewing Photoshop

ModCloth has taken the pledge. The online fashion retailer became the first brand to officially pledge not to retouch its models by signing the Heroes Pledge for Advertisers agreement last week.

The pledge was created by group behind the bipartisan bill called The Truth in Advertising Act, which was introduced in March and asks the Federal Trade Commission to develop regulations regarding retouched advertisements.

By signing the pledge, which is self-regulated, ModCloth has effectively promised three things:

  • To do their best not to change the shape, size, proportion, color or remove or enhance the physical features, of the people in ads in post-production.
  • That if the company does make post-production changes to the people in their ads, they will add a “Truth In Advertising” label.
  • They will not run any ads that include retouched models in media where children under 13 might see them.

It’s not surprising that ModCloth chose to sign the pledge. The San Francisco-based company is known for its vintage-style clothing and accessories marketed to the younger set. “We’ve always believed in celebrating and showing real women in our marketing,” ModCloth chief marketing officer Nancy Ramamurthi told Today, noting that company hasn’t used professional models since its launch in 2002 and has never used Photoshop to retouch them. “It was a no-brainer to sign on and participate.”

Though ModCloth is the first retailer to sign the pledge, thankfully it isn’t alone when it comes to moving away from unrealistic perfection in their catalogues. Earlier this year Aerie, American Eagle’s lingerie brand, released ads that proclaimed, “No more retouching our girls and no more supermodels.” The words went with a series of ads featuring unretouched models complete with tattoos and normal, everyday folds and bulges. (Though they were all slim, young and beautiful…) The brand also redesigned its website to include a bra guide with each product modeled in every size to give the average customer an idea of how the garment would look on them — and not a size zero model.

“This is now our brand,” Aerie’s senior director of marketing Dana Seguin told Fast Company in January. “It’s not a seasonal campaign for us. It is now how we’re talking to our customers.”

And then there’s sportswear company Title Nine, which, unsurprisingly given its name, has a pro-woman outlook. The company uses athletes as their models and, according to the website’s model mission statement: “It’s our models that best represent who we are here at Title Nine. All are ordinary women capable of extraordinary things…. We hope as you look through our online store and our catalog, you’ll see a little bit of yourself in each picture.” Similarly, Betabrand used non-professional models in its spring campaign; instead, online retailer selected women who had PhDs or were doctorial candidates to model the clothes.

Considering that study after study has found that depictions of women in the media have an impact on the way women and girls feel about their own bodies, it’s heartening to know that some companies are taking care about their own portrayals of women’s bodies. But while it would be wonderful to see more companies sign the Heroes Pledge for Advertisers, it would be even more wonderful for such a campaign to be unnecessary.


This Is Who Facebook Thinks You Are

Nighttime exterior view of apartment window with woman working on laptop
Patti McConville—Getty Images

Last quarter, Facebook made $2.8 billion off our personal information. Starting this summer, the social network is letting us see exactly what pieces of our online identities it reveals to advertisers. Here's how.

You might think Facebook is free. But the social network posted $2.8 billion in second quarter revenue two weeks ago, and that money came from somewhere — namely, the personal information that Facebook has spent years mining from your online activity, against which it sells hyper-targeted advertising. If you are one of Facebook’s 204 million users in the United States and Canada, the social network made about $5.79 in advertising revenue off you last quarter.

On some level, we all know that Facebook does this, and on some level we all accept it. But starting this summer, Facebook is letting us lift the curtain and see exactly what pieces of our online identities it reveals to advertisers. If you hover over the top, right-hand corner of any Facebook ad, you can access a dropdown menu that will let you hide certain ads, rate ads as helpful, or — this is the interesting part — see why a particular advertiser chose to target you. Among the potential reasons: your age, your gender, your location, pages you’ve liked, pages your friends have liked, your propensity to click on similar ads, where you shop online, what kind of phone you have, your inferred hobbies … or “other reasons.”

When I checked my own page, I learned that Facebook thinks I love Chipotle Mexican Grill (true), I watch ice hockey (false), I have an iPhone 5s (true), I’m a biker (false), I live away from my family (true), and I’m a “hipster” (really?).

Just a typical night with my husband, 8-year-old daughter, and Roku video player.

I’ll warn you that the whole exercise is enough to trigger a minor identity crisis. Take an ad for Roku, a streaming video player. I saw it because Facebook determined that one of my interests is “motherhood” — which apparently placed me in Roku’s target audience. This was news to me. As a 23-year-old unmarried woman, I don’t plan to have children for many, many years. What were the inputs for THAT algorithm? Have I watched too many videos starring baby animals? Did I make too many “Gilmore Girls” references? Did my birthday set off some kind of digital biological clock? What does else Facebook know about me that I don’t already know about myself?

I asked my colleagues at Money.com to tell me what ads they see, and why. Here’s what Facebook’s got on them. (Scroll past if you just want instructions on how to find out what Facebook thinks it knows about you — and what it’s selling to advertisers.)

Ellen Stark, senior editor-at-large


Facebook thinks: She might want varicose vein treatment
Accuracy rating: 0/10
Facebook says: “You’re seeing this ad because NJ Top Docs – NJ Top Dentists – NJ Top Hospitals wants to reach women aged 30 and older who are near New York, New York. This is based on things like your Facebook profile information and your internet connection.”
Ellen says: “Really, I don’t need this! This is one of the reasons that Facebook ads can be so depressing. But at least they were targeting women as young as 30.”

Sarina Finkelstein, photo editor


Facebook thinks: She might need diapers for her baby
Accuracy rating: 10/10
Facebook says: “One of the reasons you’re seeing this ad is because The Honest Company wants to reach people interested in Gerber Products Company.”
Sarina says: “Of course every parent needs diapers. But, how does Facebook know I have a baby? My baby doesn’t have a profile page. My baby is not listed under ‘family’ on my profile. Maybe Facebook knows because, like any proud parent, I post pictures for family and friends to see? Or because I have used the word ‘baby’ in status updates? Or … I might have gone to the website for The Honest Company more than a month ago. I certainly haven’t gone to the Gerber Products Company webpage. Creepy Facebook, stay out of my baby’s nursery.”

Kerri Anne Renzulli, reporter


Facebook thinks: She might want yoga pants that look like dress pants
Accuracy rating: 0/10
Facebook says: “One of the reasons you’re seeing this ad is because Betabrand wants to reach people who are similar to their customers. We think you’re similar based on what you do on Facebook, such as the Pages you’ve liked and ads and posts you’ve clicked on.”
Kerri Anne says: “Everyone who knows me knows I never wear pants … just dresses and skirts. And if I did wear pants to work, I would not wear the same pair to yoga.”

George Mannes, senior editor


Facebook thinks: He might keep kosher
Accuracy rating: 2/10
Facebook says: “One of the reasons you’re seeing this ad is because Kosher Ordering wants to reach people interested in Synagogue.”
George says: “I think I did a Google search for a synagogue a few days ago, or maybe I received an email from my synagogue recently. But the last time I ordered kosher take-out was about five years ago, when my in-laws were in town for a visit.”

Jake Davidson, reporter

Facebook thinks: He “returned from a trip two weeks ago” (this information was stored in Jake’s ad preferences)
Accuracy rating: 10/10
Jake says: “I did go to Vermont two weeks ago, and I posted updates while I was away. Facebook must have figured out my location. It doesn’t really weird me out. If it did, I would just turn off location services. But I’m fine with more relevant ads.”

See for yourself.

Here’s how to check how Facebook is selling you, and what the company thinks it knows about you.

1. Identifying an interesting ad.

Hover over the right-hand corner until an “x” appears, then click. For ads in the newsfeed, click the “v” button on the right-hand corner.

2. Find out why you’ve been targeted.

Once you’ve clicked on the ad, you should see a drop-down menu. If you click, “Why am I seeing this?” Facebook will give you customized information about why you got that particular ad.

Often, an advertiser has selected you based on demographic information (like your estimated age, gender, and location) or other information Facebook has about your interests. But sometimes the explanation is vaguer (like, the company wants to reach users “similar to their customers,” or they’ve paid to advertise through one of Facebook’s ad exchanges).

3. See what else Facebook thinks you like.

In the “Why am I seeing this?” tab, click “Manage your ad preferences.” Here, Facebook will tell you what information it has derived about your interests — the restaurants you like, the sports teams you support, the television shows you watch. If the information is inaccurate (or if you don’t want Facebook to show ads based on that information), you can edit your profile, but you won’t be able to opt out of ads completely. Or, give the social network more information about your interests, and you can get more relevant ads.

Tell us: What does Facebook know about you?

What kinds of ads are you seeing? Do you think targeted ads are helpful, creepy, or both? Tell us in the form below, and if you can, take a screenshot of the ad in question. We might publish your response.



MONEY Leisure

Shark Week Turns into a Feeding Frenzy for Consumer Eyeballs—and Cash

No "Shark Week" party is complete without a dozen of these cupcakes ($34.95 via Discover Channel store). courtesy of Georgetown Cupcakes

When there are shark-themed donuts and cupcakes for sale, it becomes clear that the marketing of "Shark Week" and sharks in general has, well, jumped the shark.

The Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” kicks off on Sunday, August 10, bringing the frenzy of interest in the fascinating creatures of the deep to all new heights. The annual event is a ratings bonanza, and a hot topic on social media, complete with its own prerequisite hashtag #sharkweek.

While there’s nothing stopping “Shark Week” from being fun, entertaining, and informative all at once, some experts in the field—of scientific research, not entertainment or marketing—feel like the circus surrounding sharks is overkill, perhaps even exploitive. “I’m kind of disappointed, and I think most researchers are, too,” George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, told USA Today. “It obviously is a big draw, but I’m afraid that the programs have gone more to entertainment and less to documentary over the years. It’s kind of a shame, because they have the opportunity to teach good stuff in what’s going on with science.”

The Discovery Channel is hardly the only party that’s guilty of playing to the lowest common denominator by focusing on “blood and gore or animals performing tricks,” as Burgess put it. And it’s hardly the only player out there trying to hook consumers’ attention (and dollars) by way of the shark.

Sharks—or more precisely, the fear of sharks—have a long history of helping to sell stuff. Movie tickets, for instance. Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” not only kicked off the summer blockbuster as a phenomenon, but is also widely considered the biggest and best summer blockbuster film of all time. A series of sequels and other shark movies followed, as did the ever-expanding, factually questionable “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel. In the so-called “Summer of the Shark,” in 2001 (mere weeks before 9/11, it’s often noted, when very different fears took over the American consciousness), unwarranted hype over shark attacks was used to sell magazines and keep viewers glued to 24/7 news channels, awaiting word of the next deadly aquatic encounter.

We’re still fascinated by sharks, and sharks are still being used to lure us into shops and TV shows and movies that we should probably know better than to watch. Lately, in an age dominated by memes and ironic-air-quotes “entertainment,” the cold-blooded mankiller of the deep has been replaced by an equally fictitious creature—the shark as adorable mascot.

This summer, “Shark Week” has been joined by the straight-to-cable arrival of the gag “movie” “Sharknado 2.” But given how much over-the-top goofball hype goes into “Shark Week” itself—Rob Lowe waterskiing atop two great whites anyone?—the Discovery Channel event seems to be its own best parody.

The merchandising of sharks and “Shark Week” has been, in a word, shark-tastic (the title of a book sold on the Discovery Channel, naturally). Among the roughly 150 items listed on the site as appropriate purchases for “Shark Week” celebration are shark kites, a Shark Week smartphone case, Shark Week bottle openers and coozies, “clever” shark T-shirts that say “Bite Me” and “I’m Hammered,” and Shark Week cupcakes that show Rob Lowe atop his pal sharks again.

Elsewhere in the ocean of summertime shark products, Dunkin’ Donuts is selling a Shark Bite Donut (the frosting resembles a life preserver), and Cold Stone Creamery has shark-themed cupcakes and ice cream sundaes, complete with colorful gummy sharks. Limited-edition “Shark Week”-inspired soap is available at one New York City boutique, while a “Shark Week” search at etsy turns up more than 1,300 hand puppets, pencil holders, custom-designed panties, pieces of jewelry, and other crafts. A whole other list of goods has been devoted to the frenzy around “Sharknado,” including a new perfume called “Shark by Tara,” created by one of the movie’s stars, Tara Reid.

The normally sober tacticians at Consumer Reports even got in on the action, using the Sharknado sequel as an excuse to run a review of chainsaws—the perfect weapon in the battle against sharks falling out of the sky.

Then there’s shark tourism. It might seem odd that any beach community would actively want to associate itself with sharks. Yet the effort to brand Chatham, Mass., the town on the elbow of Cape Cod—near plenty of seals and therefore sharks too—as something along the lines of the Shark Capital of America has been several years in the making. Starting in 2009, news spread that biologists were tagging great white sharks off the coast. Sure, it freaked some swimmers and boaters out, but it also drew the masses to the coast, bearing binoculars with the hope of spotting one of the beasts.

“The great white shark is sexy,” Lisa Franz, Chatham’s chamber of commerce chief, explained to the Boston Globe last summer. “Chatham as a town, I think, has embraced the whole shark concept,” she said. “As long as nobody gets hurt.”

Fast-forward a year, and the shark schlock business is booming. “Truthfully, we’ve probably grown about 500 percent in terms of the sale of our shark apparel,’’ one Chatham tourist shop owner offering “T-shirts, hoodies, hats, belts, dog collars and other accessories” featuring great whites for $10 to $45 told the Associated Press in June.

People seem to love the shark meme so much that local restaurants and shopkeepers understandably have a new fear: They’re scared about what would happen to business if the sharks suddenly went away.

MONEY online shopping

Why Retailers Actually Want You to Unsubscribe From Their Spammy Email Lists

Wooden "SPAM" stamp
Bill Truslow—Getty Images

Gmail made it easier than ever to unsubscribe from unwanted email lists sent by retailers that somehow got hold of your email address. So go on, unsubscribe. Marketers won't mind (much).

This week, a message posted by Google + explained that a change at Gmail makes it quicker and easier to unsubscribe from unwanted email lists. “Sometimes you end up subscribed to lists that are no longer relevant to you, and combing through an entire message looking for a way to unsubscribe is no fun,” the note stated. To simplify things and save users time, Gmail is now automatically putting an “Unsubscribe” button at the top of the email, just to the right of the sender’s email address. Click it and those annoying emails you’re tired of deleting will soon go away (in theory at least).

Google made the case that the “unsubscribe option easy to find is a win for everyone. For email senders, their mail is less likely to be marked as spam and for you, you can now say goodbye to sifting through an entire message for that one pesky link.”

Not everyone is viewing the change in quite the same win-win light, however. Adweek described the Unsubscribe button as potentially “a huge blow to email marketers” because making it easier for people to unsubscribe will naturally result in more people unsubscribing. That means fewer people getting the messages of retailers, activist groups, and others that are constantly seeking ways to bolster their ranks of email list subscribers.

So this is awful for the retailers that rely on such lists to spread the word about new products and deals and thereby boost sales, right? Well, not necessarily. One email marketing expert told InternetRetailer.com that there’s an upside to the change at Gmail. On the one hand, yes, putting the Unsubscribe option in a more prominent position will put the idea into the heads of more subscribers and cause subscriber numbers to shrink. But Chad White, lead research analyst at the email marketing firm ExactTarget, said that the people who will utilize the quick Unsubscribe option are problematic subscribers to begin with. They’re the consumers who are most likely to complain about the emails and/or the company, and they’re more apt to categorize the emails as spam. Reporting an email as spam to Gmail is worse for the sender than unsubscribing, as it damages the sender’s reputation in the eyes of email providers.

“While marketers don’t want people to unsubscribe, that may be a better option than them hitting delete without reading an e-mail or hitting the Spam button,” said White. “This is the least bad option because it doesn’t hurt the sender’s reputation.”

Gmail’s Unsubscribe option has actually been around, but flying under the radar, for a few months. It was only just this week that the company introduced and explained it in a big public way. The development follows the much more significant innovation at Gmail last summer, when the service introduced a system categorizing emails into separate boxes for one’s Social, Promotions, and Primary messages. Retailers and marketers worried (and still worry) that the system segregates Promotions into an easy-to-ignore folder.

Yet as with the Unsubscribe button, some think there is an upside to Gmail’s categorization system. When the Gmail categories were introduced, Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru told us via email, “The segregation could actually be helpful because people can quickly scan in one place things that may/may not be relevant without having to hunt for personal emails in a sea of mixed clutter.” She also argued that the category system could help marketers reach a much more targeted audience, providing “a ‘destination’ for people that’s not unlike getting a pile of Sunday circulars.”

Now that it’s easier to unsubscribe, marketers can assume that the people who remain subscribed are more of a core group that find the messages relevant and appealing. In other words: They’re really great customers. “There are actually people who love marketing emails–that’s the reason they still stay subscribed to email lists in the first place,” said Mulpuru. “It’s very opt-in and self-selected.”

MONEY Food & Drink

Sorry, Dude, You’ve Been Drinking the Wrong Beer for Years

Beer tasting
Daniel Grill—Getty Images

A blind taste test reveals that if you're loyal to a beer brand because of the taste, you just might be fooling yourself.

A new study from the American Association of Wine Economists explores the world of beer rather than wine, and the findings indicate that you could be buying a favorite brand of brew for no good reason whatsoever. While the experiments conducted were limited, the results show that when labels are removed from beer bottles, drinkers can’t tell different brands apart—sometimes even when one of those brands is the taster’s go-to drink of choice.

In the paper, the researchers first point to a classic 1964 study, in which a few hundred volunteer beer testers (probably wasn’t too hard to find folks willing to participate) were sent five different kinds of popular lager brands, each with noticeable taste differences according to the experts. But people who rated their preferred beer brands higher when the labels were on bottles “showed virtually no preferences for certain beers over others” when the labels were removed during tastings:

In the blind tasting condition, no beer was judged by its regular drinkers to be significantly better than the other samples. In fact, regular drinkers of two of the five beers scored other beers significantly higher than the brand that they stated was their favorite.

The new study takes a different, simpler path to judging the quality of beer drinkers’ taste buds. Researchers didn’t even bother with ratings data. Instead, the experiments consisted of blind taste tests with three European lagers—Czechvar (Czech Republic), Heineken (Netherlands), and Stella Artois (Belgium)—in order simply to find out if beer drinkers could tell them apart. The experiments involved a series of “triangle tests,” in which drinkers were given a trio of beers to taste, two of which were the same beer. Tasters were asked to name the “singleton” of the bunch, and generally speaking, they could not do so with any reliable degree of accuracy:

In two of three tastings, participants are no better than random at telling the lagers apart, and in the third tasting, they are only marginally better than random.

What these results tell researchers, then, is that beer drinkers who stick with a certain brand label may be buying the beer for just that reason—the label. As opposed to the taste and quality, which are the reasons that consumers would probably give for why they are brand loyalists.

As the researchers put it in the new study, “marketing and packaging cues may be generating brand loyalty and experiential differences between brands.” In other words, we buy not for taste but because of the beer’s image and reputation that’s been developed via advertising, logos, and other marketing efforts. Similar conclusions have been reached in studies about wine; one, for instance, found that wine drinkers will pay more for bottles with hard-to-pronounce names—because apparently we assume that a fancy name is a sign of better quality. We also buy beer, wine, and a wide range of other products due to force of habit, of course.

Drinkers who are loyal to a particular beer brand may hate to hear this—heck, so are consumers who are loyal to almost any product brand—but the research indicates we are heavily influenced by factors other than those we really should care about, such as quality and superior taste.

All that said, we must point out the study’s shortcomings. The beer tastings were very limited in scope. It’s not like tasters were asked to compare Bud Light and a hoppy craft IPA, and then failed to tell the difference. And just because some volunteers couldn’t differentiate between beers doesn’t mean that you, with your superior palate, would be just as clueless. You may very well buy your favorite beer brand because, to quote an old beer ad, it “tastes great.”

Just to be sure, though, it might be time to take the labels off and do some blind taste testing. Could make for a fun Saturday night.

TIME Advertising

Watch This Amazing Musical Ad About the First Day of School

This school has some ugly monsters


Old Navy’s latest back-to-school ad is like a ballad music video spliced with some weird outtakes from Monsters, Inc.
The four-minute musical features a teenage girl imagining all of the possibilities for her future on her first day back to class while batting away a lumpy, hairy and vaguely purple creature named “Womp Womp,” who tries to bring her down. It’s no shocker she doesn’t want to be seen with him in front of the cool kids.
Watch the whole thing to see a duet with her adorable friend on a school bus. (Or is it her boyfriend? At their age, we may never know.) Then cue Womp Womp, running awkwardly after them.

TIME Apple

New Apple Ad Shows Your iPhone Can Measure a Horse’s Heart Rate

Apple's not horsing around


Apple has a new commercial for the iPhone 5s that touts the device’s usefulness for medicine, science and creativity.

In the ad, people are using the device to help inspect and measure minerals as well as track a horse’s heart rate. It’s not clear how often the average iPhone user will want to play veterinarian, but the ad may encourage you to experiment with a new app or two.

“You’re more powerful than you think,” Apple declares at the end of the spot.

TIME Sports

Cristiano Ronaldo Stars in Truly Bizarre Japanese Commercial for a Facial Fitness Tool

Guaranteed to make your smile look just like his!


When Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t showing off his well-toned muscles after winning a soccer game, he’s showing off a gadget meant to help people boast his winning smile.

The Portuguese footballer recently appeared in a Japanese advertisement for an unusual little product called Pao Facial Fitness. It requires users to bite down on a winged contraption and then vigorously nod their heads in an attempt to build up cheek strength. Based on the commercial, it seems that users are also encouraged to dance around.

If you don’t want to buy one of these, don’t worry: just watching the video is likely to make you smile so hard that you’ll get a facial workout for free!

TIME Media

Your Edgy Billboard Is My Kid’s Nightmare

Strain Billboard close-up Haan-Fawn Chau

Parents can't choose whether their children see potentially offensive or frightening outdoor advertising

“Mommy?” I look in the rear-view mirror at my 6-year-old daughter. Her brow is furrowed and her mouth turned down as she stares at something out the window. “I don’t want to go this way to camp anymore,” she says.

I know exactly what she saw at the corner of Pico and Bundy in West Los Angeles. It’s CBS Outdoor billboard number 14461A, advertising FX’s The Strain. At the bottom of a giant blue eyeball, a silver worm that looks like a sharp hook pokes through the sclera.

For adults, the image is provocative. For young children, it can be terrifying. A friend told me that her 4-year-old son couldn’t sleep after seeing the image, asking repeatedly, “Mommy, will there be a worm in my eye?” From parents at my daughter’s school, on a parenting listserv, and on Facebook, I heard the same story repeated.

The ad created enough uproar to be covered in Entertainment Weekly, AdWeek and Deadline Hollywood. At the Directors Guild of America premiere of The Strain on July 10, FX CEO John Landgraf addressed the controversy: “We had to terrify some children in order to launch this show, but I think it was worth it. Just saying.”

Guillermo del Toro, co-creator of the series and the book that inspired it, similarly made light of the furor. “Look, honestly, I find every other form of advertising more morally disturbing. Beer commercials, aftershave. This is just a [expletive] worm in the eye!”

After my initial outrage over Landgraf and del Toro’s words, I decided to take them as a serious inquiry: Does the financial success of a TV show justify frightening some children? Is a “[expletive]” worm in the eye that bad? And does the public have any rights over the advertising images that fill outdoor space?

The storm over the ads certainly didn’t hurt the profile of The Strain. The show aired on Sunday, July 13, with nearly 3 million viewers, significantly higher than FX’s other recent debuts.

Defenders of the campaign told parents to explain the ads to their children, or tell them to look away. But it is difficult-to-impossible to unfrighten a young child through explanation. Children under 8 years of age are still working out the boundaries between fantasy and reality. Many children don’t yet have the verbal and cognitive tools to process their fears through talking.

My daughter, who is less sophisticated than del Toro, is not yet scared by ads for aftershave or beer. By the time my kids are old enough to possibly find them “morally disturbing,” they will be old enough for a rational discussion about them.

The dilemma parents face with outdoor advertising is that we cannot choose whether our children see a billboard or signs plastered on public transportation and transit shelters.

Movies for general audiences must meet certain standards set by the Motion Picture Association of America. Parents can boycott films they feel contain inappropriate content and are rated improperly. It’s uncertain whether the organization that controls billboards — the Outdoor Advertising Association of America — would or could implement a similar system.

On June 27, a group of parents succeeded in removing a billboard ad for The Strain near LAX within 24 hours, by calling Clear Channel and the city council. The next day, FX responded to angry calls and tweets and the negative press by announcing that ads would be replaced “in several locations.” But the billboard 14461A on my route, and others parents reported to me, stayed up for three more weeks.

When I called CBS Outdoor, which owns billboard 14461A, Craig Rosato, its general sales manager, told me that the company is contractually bound to display copy for a client for a fixed period and cannot immediately pull an ad. The contract does not directly link CBS Outdoor with FX — the promotional buys are handled by intermediary agencies. Going through this chain to get approval to pull an ad takes time, Rosato explained.

State and local governments currently have limited authority when it comes to offensive ads. Fred Sutton, a field deputy for council member Mike Bonin’s office, wrote to a parent with support, but cautioned about First Amendment issues: “We are only allowed to regulate signage within narrow parameters, and the city’s ability to require that the content of a billboard be changed or removed is strictly limited by law.”

Yet the few regulations in place are clearly intended to protect children. Tobacco products have been banned from outdoor advertising nationally since 1999, and the City of Los Angeles code forbids “obscene” (“prurient” or sexual) content. The California Outdoor Advertising Act and Regulations ban a “matter or thing of an obscene, indecent or immoral character.” Many parents — and nonparents — would agree that The Strain ads offend public decency.

Existing laws should be expanded to limit gory and/or violent content, images that are at least as distressing to young minds as sexual ones. While the ad at billboard No. 14461A finally came down on July 21, it’s only a matter of time before another horror movie or TV series needs promotion.

Anoosh Jorjorian blogs on parenting and politics at ArañaMama. She has also written for Salon, the Huffington Post, AlterNet, Black Girl Dangerous and Racialicious. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Advertising

Here’s How Apple Saves the World Every Day

At least according to the iPhone-maker


Apple’s “You’re more powerful than you think” ad campaign shows how the company’s products are employed around the world to do various tasks beyond the basics like email and web browsing. The latest, titled “Dreams,” shows the myriad ways iPhones are used in humanitarian endeavors. The ad is set to Jennifer O’Connor’s “When I Grow Up.” For a full list of the apps used in the spot check out, 9to5Mac’s round-up.


Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,068 other followers