If I had any popularity, challenging
this billboard might put it at risk
The above-pictured billboard, part of a national campaign, makes two claims: That Cosmopolitan is porn; and that Cosmo hurts kids. The campaign comes to us courtesy of an organization fittingly named Cosmo Hurts Kids, established and run by Victoria Hearst, an heir of the Hearst magazine empire, which publishes 22 magazines including Esquire, The Oprah Magazine—and, yes, Cosmopolitan. Ms. Hearst may not be terribly popular at family reunions.
Questioning the claims risks being branded anti-child or a defender of the perverse, so please permit me to state clearly:
- I do NOT support harming kids. I rather like kids.* I have two grown kids whom I rather like. One of them has two kids of his own, whom I also rather like.
- I am neither defending nor attacking porn. I’m attempting an informed look at the billboard’s two assertions.
- I do support a rational approach. Even when handling a potato as hot as this one.
Whether Cosmo is porn is a question of definition. While most people don’t use porn to mean the likes of Cosmo so much as the likes of Playboy or Hustler and XXX movies, there are nonetheless plenty of people who embrace the broader definition, and they are capable of raising quite the outcry. In many markets, including Utah, where I live, the outcry has persuaded retailers displaying Cosmo to mask all but its masthead.
A responsible society demands good evidence for serious accusations, which “Cosmo harms kids” is. If evidence exists, and for all I know it does, Ms. Hearst’s website fails to provide it. Rather, it appeals to emotion and argues from authority, including deity. Both appeals can and do persuade, but neither actually supports the claim.
To the advantage of Cosmo Hurts Kids is today’s widely-held belief that porn is a danger, a disease, and an addictive product. These, too, are serious claims. I’m a marketer, not a psychologist, so I’m loath to mire myself in that conversation. Suffice it to say that when you step outside the realm of “everyone knows porn is harmful” and look to credentialed people taking a more academic approach,** the claim fails to hold up.
I like honest advertising. Advertising that bullies—“Disagree and everyone will think you’re a perv”—isn’t honest advertising. Good intentions aside.
* And not in the W.C. Fields “properly cooked” sense.
** Dr. Marty Klein’s website is a good starting place. Yeah, I know, “sex therapist” makes you want to hang garlic and hold up a crucifix—me too, most of the time—but Klein is a pretty smart guy.