York Region apologizes for now-pulled ads

The Toronto-area anti-drinking campaign has been pulled following an outcry over the ad's sexist depictions and copy.

YorkThe Regional Municipality of York is responding with apologies after its women-focused public health ad faced public backlash, particularly from the student community.

The ad in question features a young woman looking at her smartphone in horror – presumably at the series of Instagram posts featured across the bottom – with the message “Don’t Try to Keep Up with the Guys.” Each of those posts are of some young people drinking, with hashtags like #bingedrinking. The last shot features an intoxicated looking woman with the user “collegeguy” commenting that its “#mykindofparty.”

The bottom of the ad also reads: “It’s not just about keeping an eye on your drink, but how much you drink.”

The ad – part of a larger public health campaign related to substance abuse – quickly faced backlash on social media after debuting Aug. 21. Specifically, the ad was seen to place the blame on victims of sexual assault, rather than perpetrators – a particularly topical and sensitive issue on college and university campuses. The ads were posted at York University, for example, which has contended with high profile cases of alleged sexual assaults over the past few years.

Created internally by York Region (a municipality within the Greater Toronto Area), the ad launched ahead of post-secondary back-to-school events and was set to be in market until Oct. 2. Instead, they were pulled on Aug. 25 and York Region issued an apology via Twitter.

York Region began replying to social media posts decrying the ad with an apology and the statement from its Public Health department noting that it’s suspending the campaign. Its intention, the statement said, was to target women and let them know that they metabolize alcohol differently from men and are at greater risk for “alcohol related harm.”

A total of 172 poster ads were put up across 73 sites, including bars, restaurants and clubs in and around York Region and the City of Toronto. A version of the ad also ran on social media. York Region Public Health is still calculating the budgetary implications of pulling the ads, a spokesperson told strategy via email.

Image via Twitter