United Way ads showing a little girl's face atop a busty woman's body to fight teen pregnancy and statutory rape created an uproar online that got them yanked before they went to print.
But the campaign — with the slogan "When you look at a young girl as something more, you need help" — created to fight a disturbing pattern in inner-city Milwaukee is part of a larger trend of increasingly lurid "shock ads," according to Newsweek magazine.
Shock-and-awe gimmicks have been used in advertising for decades, but those in the know say they're becoming more disgusting. And critics are disgusted, calling them needlessly provocative.
The United Way spread is case in point, showing a despondent child-woman wearing a low-cut cocktail dress. The campaign was launched to battle the worrying 71 percent of teen pregnancies in Milwaukee that arise from statutory rape, according to the nonprofit powerhouse.
A drunk-driving deterrent spot for a group called Arrive Alive features a sexily dressed girl collapsed on the floor of a men's bathroom.
In general, such public-service campaigns are "like a sledgehammer to the face," AdRants blog founder Steve Hall told Newsweek.
But there's evidence that these ads are good for business, and spike sales, the magazine reported.