Ad agency, Milwaukee aim to decrease infant mortality

A recent Milwaukee advertising campaign against bed-sharing has elicited strong responses with its depiction of a sleeping baby laying next to a sharp knife with the words, “Your baby sleeping with you can be just as dangerous.”

Serve Marketing, a local nonprofit advertising agency, launched the ad the same day the City of Milwaukee announced its goal to reduce the infant mortality rate by 10 percent.  Before the campaign was revealed Wednesday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported a 7-week-old baby was found dead after bed-sharing with its parent. This was the ninth Milwaukee baby to die this year from bed-sharing. 

The controversial ad, which has received attention from the national press and was discussed on the “Today Show,” is part of a series to reduce the infant mortality rate in Milwaukee. Supporters include Mayor Tom Barrett, Commissioner of Health Bevan Baker, the City of Milwaukee Health Department and Serve Marketing.

When the ad was released last Wednesday, it marked the first time in history that city officials set a goal for reducing the number of infant deaths. Milwaukee has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the nation.

Barrett and Baker aim to reduce the African-American infant mortality rate by 15 percent by 2017 and Milwaukee’s overall rate by 10 percent.

During the news conference regarding the controversial ad, Barrett and Baker said they have chosen to focus on the death rates among African-American infants in order to reduce the racial gap in Milwaukee, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Journal Sentinel also reported that twelve years ago, African-American infants had 3.5 times the death rate of white infants. The African-American death rate is 2.5 times the white death rate today and is still one of the worst in the nation. 

Although the intentions of the city and government officials are positive, reactions to the advertisement have been mixed.

Andrew Axt, a senior in the College of Engineering and president of Marquette’s chapter of Students for Life, said he was all for the ad if it supported saving lives and lowering the number of deaths in a certain demographic. But he said he was not happy with the way the ad could be interpreted in terms of abortion.

“Mr. Barrett is telling women, ‘Don’t kill your child by sleeping with it, but if you want to kill it before it’s born, that’s fine by me,’” Axt said.

Matt Larson, an account executive at Serve Marketing, agreed the ad was provocative but said that was done on purpose.

“The advertisement needed to be (provocative), because the issue we are addressing is important and should not go unnoticed,” Larson said.

Garry Mueller, founder of Serve Marketing, said in a press release that the ad campaign was started because the less traditional messages about bed-sharing dangers were not getting across to the citizens of Milwaukee.

“There absolutely was a gasp when we first presented it to the health commissioner and the mayor,” Mueller said.

Mueller said also presented it to inner-city mothers, who he said also supported the ad.

“They gasped too,” he said. “But every person said, ‘You have to put this message out.'”

Larson explained that the City of Milwaukee Health Department and Serve worked together to make the most of the ad.

“Garry Mueller came up with the idea for the advertisement after receiving the materials from the health department and presented it to Mayor Barrett,” he said.

Larson said the fact that the ninth death in the city related to bed-sharing was announced the same day added validity to their purpose.

“It definitely is an ad that is getting more attention than other advertisements we have made,” he said. “Each (ad) is provocative, but this one was meant to be more so because of the topic.”