Tenn. DUI campaign causes controversy amid allegations of sexism

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A Tennessee state advertising campaign targeting drinking and driving is meeting heavy resistance.

The campaign, put out by the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, is designed to reach young men, but many say it’s too edgy and insults women.

Bars and restaurants around the state were flooded with coasters and table flags recently that say, “Buy a drink for a marginally good looking girl only to find out she’s chatty, clingy, and your boss’s daughter. If this sounds like something you would do, your judgment is impaired and so is your driving.”

One restaurant customer told News 2 he doesn’t think it’s quite appropriate.

“I just think it’s bizarre, the language they are using on it,” said Cory Wurst.

While the message would seem to be well intended, trying to reduce drinking and driving, many think the way it targets young men and speaks of women is sexist.

“It came across that way to me. It really did,” said Frank Hall, General Manager of Gold Rush on Elliston Place in Nashville.

He said looking at the coaster makes him wonder what his customers are going to think.

“What is a young lady coming in going to think about that?” Hall asked, adding, “They never saw them. I wouldn’t let them out.”

He told News 2 the coasters bothered him and that’s all it took to make the decision to keep them away.

Graffiti advertising is also being used as part of the campaign, imagery like a rudimentary drawing of a cat being used as a mop to clean up vomit.

Tuesday afternoon, the state released the following statement regarding their campaign:

The Governor’s Highway Safety Office would like to apologize for any offense caused by the 100 Days of Summer Heat Booze It and Lose It Campaign. Because one of the goals of many Booze It and Lose It campaigns is to reach our high risk driving population, the marketing is often edgy and designed to grab the attention of the young male demographic. It was never the intent of the GHSO to be insensitive or insulting to women.

The GHSO receives federal funding to change driver behavior through education and enforcement. No state dollars are used for the marketing of campaigns such as Booze It and Lose It or Click It or Ticket.

The table tents, posters, and coasters in question will no longer be distributed and are being removed from bars across the state. The cost for the production and distribution of these materials was $77,096. The cost for the removal of these materials will be paid for by The Tombras Group, the Knoxville media/marketing firm that is under contract with the Governor’s Highway Safety Office. The Tombras Group has also removed the micro-website that was designed to be a companion to the bar materials.

The goal of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office continues to be reducing crashes and saving lives in the state of Tennessee. Impaired driving continues to be the preeminent danger facing motorists across the nation.

Kendell Poole, Director

Governor’s Highway Safety Office

News 2 reached out to MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to hear what they had to say. They said, in full:

MADD is focused on eliminating drunk driving by the use of all offender ignition interlock laws and high visibility law enforcement efforts. We know these things work and encourage Tennessee to focus its resources on proven DUI countermeasures.

Kate Ritchie, MADD TN State Director

State Rep. John Ray Clemmons also weighed in on the ad campaign, saying:

I am calling on Governor Haslam to disavow this offensive and ill-conceived marketing campaign concocted by the Governor’s Highway Safety Office. It is not only offensive, but it is also inexcusable and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Frankly, I am furious.

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