Commentary: Why billboard is an Ad FAIL

An offensive, incendiary ad went up in Manhattan this week targeting the wombs of Black women. I was not alone in my anger at the ad; media personality and recording artist Free shared my upset. She invited me to provide some analysis on the ad to take the discussion on twitter beyond the emotional reactions the ad sparked. Below is what she posted at I’d love to get your thoughts here as well.

Here’s the ad:

No, your eyes do not deceive you.



I have been in advertising and marketing communications for over 12 years. As a writer of numerous campaigns across categories from pro-social to entertainment, I understand the impact words and images are designed to make in the form of advertising. I want to examine all that is wrong with this ad:

Copy: “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.” The headline is designed to grab your attention. It certainly does that—but it also maligns African American expectant mothers and infers that the Black female body is toxic and to be feared, when in fact the womb is the seminal, most natural place in the world for any child of any mother. Now Black women’s wombs are more dangerous than urban streets, than corrupt police, than semi-automatic weapons, than drugs?! The headline seems to work counter to the overall message, which is that they want to prevent abortions. If that’s so, then what’s so scary about a pregnant Black woman? Ohhh, the fact that she might be in control of her own reproductive system; that she would make an informed choice of her own volition. Now I get it.

Imagery: Instead of seeing a mature pregnant woman, or even an infant, we are presented with an adorable young African-American girl who looks to be under the age of 8. What is this ad’s image saying? That the child is also dangerous as the outcome of a Black woman giving birth? That she is the owner of the dangerous womb and sexually active, (which objectifies and sexualizes her in a way that is totally inappropriate)? Or is it intended to make a woman considering terminating a pregnancy rethink it if she sees a cute little girl that her embryo could become? In my view, this cute girl is meant to make me look and say “awww, how cute!” and then read the whole ad. Any answer occurs for me as a ploy. More abuse of the black female image.

But what if this woman was raped? What if her pregnancy is the result of incest? What if the condom just broke, or she’s simply not prepared emotionally or financially to bring a child into the world? What if the embryo has genetic abnormalities the mother is not able or willing to manage? Much more goes into this decision than interest groups and politicians tend to admit or accept.

A woman’s right to choose is under a full-blown assault in America right now. From talk of overturning Roe v. Wade, to Republicans trying to redefine “rape” in legislation to the Senate voting to de-fund Planned Parenthood, the pendulum is dangerously close to swinging back to hangers in dark alleys or interstate drives in the dead of night for illegal procedures. Instead of offensive and insensitive ads for shock value, why wouldn’t share options for pregnant women that involve going full term? Present the option of surrogacy, or offering the child for adoption instead of vilifying the same womb that creates life. Or, sing the praises of abstinence or safe sex. All that is too complicated; it’s easier to slap a nasty headline on a sweet image and generate some buzz. If women of color are terminating at disproportionate rates, a closer look at all the factors that contribute to this should be examined. All women deserve to know what those factors are. gets an Ad FAIL from me for race-baiting with their advertising.

Thembisa S. Mshaka, Promax Gold and Telly award-winning advertising and media executive and author, Put Your Dreams First, Handle Your [entertainment] Business (Business Plus/GCP, 2009)

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30 Responses to “Commentary: Why billboard is an Ad FAIL”

  1. Shahidah Says:

    OMG that is absolutely the most horrific thing I have ever seen!!!
    I love your analogies as well.

  2. barry ayers Says:

    What they are really say is that black life has no value at all.Knowing but not willing to accept the fact that the black woman womb is the source of all hue-man life.

  3. selena Says:

    I think that it did exactly what it was designed to do. Get to you. Evoke this reaction from you. It is what it is. Look at the census. Where are we? What is happening to our children? I am going to neutral on this ad and pray for every little seed to have an opportunity to grow. I am Pro=Choice for every woman, but Pro-Life for myself. Choice is a beautiful thing. I choose LIFE.

  4. Surya Says:

    I think Ad Fail is too kind!! That is horrendous. Know any good graffiti artists?
    someone needs to take a big ol’ can of black spray paint and cover up every one of those ads!! Sometimes I think the world is getting better and other days I think people are just going BACKWARDS….this ad is unfortunately an example of the latter. Great article.

  5. Tonya J Says:

    I find it very offensive and racist. If that billboard read “ALL WHITE PEOPLE ARE RACIST or ALL JEWS ARE CHEAP”…you watch how fast it would have been removed…matter of fact, it would have never went up. This should be addressed. If they get away with this, the next picture will be a black baby being hung in a tree.

  6. Tonya J Says:

    I honestly think (MY OPINION) Black and Hispanic women are more likely to keep an un-planned pregnacy over a white person. A white woman will choose abortion or adoption if that pregnacy is not in sync with their education or careers. Minorities will choose to keep a child and deal with the struggles of raising a child, even when financially it’s not a good idea. All races have un-protected sex…it’s who is more likely to do what when that EPT comes back positive…abortion, adoption or toss the fetus in a trash can. They should get the data on that!

  7. Thembisa Mshaka Says:

    Thanks for your insightful comments everyone! Word is the ad company that posted the billboard has been inundated with calls and emails and the ad is coming down today.

    To reach out to them:

    Lamar Advertising GM Peter Costanza, Ph 212-644-6147 Fax 212-644-6148

  8. vinesha Barrett Says:

    i am so outraged this is embarrassing i am a 21 yr black woman and a virtuous one as well and i feel so degraded by this ad. if ur trying to send a mgs about abortion this ad should have had a picture of every race and of every child. im sick to my stomach, its black history and this is how it is celebrated.

  9. A little Angel Says:

    Why do women want abortion access so bad so they fix a mistake!!!!! Tell that to GOD if you were born with no arms or legs that he created a mistake.

  10. Tonya J Says:

    @Vinesha: u are so right, put a picture of a woman of every race. Better yet just show a fetus in the womb (no race). The purpose of their fight is anit-abortion, it shouldn’t be targeted at a particular race/races…

  11. A little Angel Says:

    What I meant to says is no one is mistake !!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Kitty Says:

    When I saw this ad I thought to myself WTF. The ad is out of line,the woman on the clip really stood up for black women. She looked to be so affended as was I. Her points were very vailid. I am pro choice and have two kids. I am no sranger to planned parent hood, they provide a very important service to the public. I just feel sold out by a black man in black history month,and since the pastor is so concerned about black woman having to many abortions tell his ass to go done there to the welfare office and play daddy to a women who didnt have an abortion but cant feed her child and doesnt know what way the daddy went. one more thing we (black woman) will need a lot more support once we start having babies that we cant afford. Where should I go (to the welfare office). The pastor thinks black women are having abortion cause we want to. Please pray for our black community and me too

  13. carmen acosta Says: should be brought up on charges of hate crime. This kind of billborad rises to the highest level of premeditated, incendiary, racist attack on a singular minority group.

  14. Karen Says:

    It was taken down; after the damage was done and is being done in other locales.
    It is still horrible, outrageous and untrue. The black “pastor” claiming responsibility for having the poster done is no better than a lynch mob.

    I think Planned Parenthood should be vetted because of all of the accusations about it continuing the negative policies sadly woven into Margaret Sanger’s original program, so the present day rumors can be put to rest. But there is a necessity for our poor and young to have a place to go to for education about and the prevention of pregnancy when it is not an intended result. That education can help prevent abortions

  15. Get your hangers and knitting needles ready… « Sky Dancing Says:

    […] and those crackling across the Internets, that ish didn’t work. Like veteran marketer and author Thembisa Mshaka wrote, “ billboards are an ad […]

  16. Tally Hill Says:

    Has anyone heard of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood? She wanted to “get rid of the weeds”. She believed in black genocide. This is probably what the sign was probably about. The safest place for all babies should be the mother’s womb. Most women are pressured into giving up the innocent lives and continue to physically or emotionally suffer. Planned Parenthood places most of their abortion mills in low income areas and target the women and young girls in those areas.

  17. ACG Says:

    Tally Hill, Planned Parenthood places most of their clinics in low-income areas. This puts women who may not otherwise have access to medical care within reach of well-woman care, cancer screenings, testing and treatment for STIs, contraception, educational programs that help prevent unplanned pregnancy and promote health and wellness, and care that can keep women healthy before conception, during pregnancy, and following a healthy birth. It also helps put women in touch with social services that can help them care for a baby or put it up for adoption. Abortions account for three percent of PP’s services.

  18. Kimberlee Fletcher Says:

    The truth often hurts, and the truth always convicts. The truth is, the vast majority of abortion clinics are located in poor minority neighborhoods specifically to target the population of those ethnic groups. If you don’t believe this, google Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, and see what opinion she had of blacks and other minorities. She referred to them as “useless eaters.” The organization behind this ad merely wanted to point out the fact that a black child is 50% more likely to be aborted than a white one. Every abortion is a tragedy; the attempted annihilation of an entire race is unconscionable. Wake up, people!

  19. crowepps Says:

    This pastor solicits donations for his group. Some of the money he receives in those donations goes to pay for deliberately offensive billboards that get lots of publicity so that he can wave his newspaper clippings around and ask for more donations. My question is, how much money does he receive, how much do the billboards cost, and what’s the difference that goes into his pocket? Seems to me this man is making a nice fat living for himself by recycling myths and insulting stereotypes.

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  27. Jx Le Says:

    What is more horrific though? The truth or the shock of hearing it? Shall we close our eyes and ears and pray to forget???

  28. Youre wrong Says:

    Just read this article. Lost a couple brain cells. So misleading and such a crappy argument against life that I can prove this whole article wrong. More black people were aborted in New York than were born… over 29,000 abortions… but that’s pro choice for ya… murder after murder, but it’s still safer than drugs, guns, and even urban streets. And if someone breaks into your house I wouldn’t call the “corrupt police” ohhh wait… yeah I would… you have them all your guns, so if they’re corrupt, why would you do that????!!? But you’re America’s smartest😂😂😂

  29. Matt L Says:

    I am an ad copywriter and I hear the anger spewing out from between the lines of Thembisa’s review. She’s such an angry pro-abortionist she can’t write an objective review. She sees offense where there is none, theorizing the black girl in the ad “is also dangerous as the outcome of a Black woman giving birth? That she is the owner of the dangerous womb and sexually active, (which objectifies and sexualizes her in a way that is totally inappropriate)?” Umm…the ad isn’t sexualizing an 8 year old. How quickly Thembisa’s anger drags her off point here is concerning. Her fuse is so short she starts spewing the angry old arguments of the typical FemiNazi, and misses most of the relevant points she could have made in a calmer moment. The ad was published and paid for by concerned Blacks in the community, calling attention to their own high abortion rates. Maybe they felt political correctness was getting them nowhere, and a stronger tone was needed. People look at a little cute girl, and yeah, the point is how awful it would be to end a life like that, of a little black kid who can grow up to be cute like this. What’s so nefarious or sinister about that intent? Pretty normal sentiment, getting blacks to think about the lives they are ending. The truth sucks, being smacked in the face with it was bold, and not fun. But OMG!! Thembisa should recognize what they’re trying to do, if she’s such a savvy ad executive/marketing strategist, etc, and not blow her stack ripping down an ad THATS TRYING TO HELP THE BLACK COMMUNITY. Did she contact the black pastor who was behind the ad to offer her expert services? Hopefully not, since she’s a rabid abortionist and so seething with venom she missed the point completely.

  30. Matt L Says:

    If Thembisa wants to be some kind of “Reproductive Justice Warrior” maybe she should apply her skills to remedy black abortions exceeding births in New York, although she’s going to have her work ‘cut out’ for her (pun intended) since New York recently applauded and passed Live Birth Infanticide, if it’s going to stress the mother out. What part of rearing children is stress-free? My God, now they’ll happily kill your children in New York should you experience the tinyest twinge of discomfort or even expect to. BAAL is baaaack!!

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