STU ad creates PR nightmare

The controversial St. Thomas ad (Tamara Gravelle/AQ)
The controversial St. Thomas ad (Tamara Gravelle/AQ)

A St. Thomas University Facebook advertisement crossed a line with Facebook users earlier this month, and prompted many students and alumni to voice their displeasure.

The ad was posted Nov. 1, and taken down four days later. It featured an underweight woman in a bikini, striking a glamour pose on a rock. A caption circled in green and gold posed the question, “Healthy or unhealthy?” A Facebook “like” thumbs-up sat on top of the words.

“I think it’s disgusting. I think its ads like that that make girls diet and feel worthless,” said third year communications major Lindsey MacKay.

The picture, supposedly a part of a larger online campaign, was intended to spark debate on the issue of body image and display STU’s emphasis on critical thinking to their Facebook followers.

The group is made up mostly of students and alumni who are aware of what a liberal arts school does.

Most initial guesses would say, “yes, that is unhealthy,” but we don’t know that. Some people are just skinny. Are we now labelling skinny people as unhealthy? What if the picture had been of an obese person?

Rather than engage in this kind of discussion, most comments indicated that students found the photo tasteless.

“It’s kind of ironic that the whole ad is about critical thinking, yet the person that posted it wasn’t thinking critically, and the people who responded didn’t either,” said third-year journalism major Corey Robichaud.

There was little debate to be had. Upset community members commented that the ad was guilty of body shaming. The ad was pulled and an apology came from communication officer Jeffrey Carleton soon after.

It reads, in part, “The image we used came across as an endorsement or manipulation for a specific opinion rather than a start to meaningful conversation. In this case, the image was too stark without enough context and that is why I removed it as a post and as an ad. I am sorry for that image but I also regret that we did not create enough context for the conversation to go deeper.”

The post was left unattended for four days, reports the CBC, and in the week and a half since the apology’s release, no new ads from the campaign have been posted.

“It didn’t have the reaction that we were looking for,” STU Communications director Jeffrey Carleton told CBC News. “Instead of engaging on the debate on the issue most people focused on the image.”

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