The State of Pro-Justice Advertising as Justice Kennedy Retires

Retirement. The word evokes many emotions. But for those who have plans to quit the 9-to-5, there are always some indulgent hopes.

A store-bought cake in the break room. Congratulatory pats on the back. A contented sigh over a mug of coffee as the retiree enjoys their last day in the office.

But yesterday, when US Supreme Court judge Anthony Kennedy announced his decision to retire, the public reaction was far from supportive.

As of now, #kennedyretirement has been trending on Twitter for several hours. Checking out the tag, you’ll find hundreds of tweets from people expressing real, genuine fear for the future of America.

But why is this a big deal?

With a spot newly opened in the Supreme Court, President Donald Trump can place whoever he wants into the seat. This means he has the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cement a conservative majority on the top court.

What could conceivably come from this are the removal of rights from several groups. But one hot-button issue that is particularly being explored today is women’s reproductive rights.

Although Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, the hard-won right for women to choose what to do with their bodies has always been on shaky ground.

When DeVito/Verdi was still a young agency, we teamed up with the Pro-Choice Public Education Project (PEP) to create a series of ads to bring awareness to this vulnerability and mobilize abortion-rights supporters. This was in 1999, and the abortion debate had been fraught with dwindling abortion providers and anti-choice terrorist attacks.

Social awareness advertising is not new, and it continues to shape politics today. To increase a campaign’s chances of success, it is often stressed that the company establish a solid stance on a controversial issue, with provocative content that sparks and holds its audience’s interest.

However, with such contentious subject matter, agencies must tread with caution, else the entire campaign backfires. This was seen in the case of Pepsi last year, when the soda company was accused of trivializing Black Lives Matter with their TV spot, in which white reality TV star Kendall Jenner brings peace between protesters and law enforcement by offering a police officer a can of Pepsi.

While public awareness on many social issues, including the vulnerability of abortion rights, seems to have grown in recent years, it’s clear the fight is far from over. From producing conversation-sparking imagery to stepping into a booth to cast a vote, there are all kinds of concrete ways to build awareness and inspire action.

Justice Kennedy’s departure can appear like a step backwards. But it is also an opportunity. His departure will highlight the fight for access to abortion, and with abortion once more in the public eye, now is the time for pro-choice organizations to focus heavily on influencing public opinion.

In the coming months, abortion will once again be at the forefront of America’s political conversations. The time is right to reach people through effective, incisive advertising and take a stand for what is right.


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