NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Is This Save The Children Ad Too Sexy For The Cause?

The sexy male model makes bedroom eyes and says, "Malaria."

The sexy female model twirls her glossy hair in a flirtatious manner and says, "Diarrhea."

It's part of a 2 minute, 17 second public service spot called "The Most Important 'Sexy' Model Video Ever." And no, it's not a spoof.

Save the Children, the aid organization founded in 1919, wanted to come up with a public service spot to promote its cause. A staffer lamented, "Moms and kids dying is just not a sexy issue."

And from those words a sexy ad was born.

Josh Ruben and Vincent Peone, who have made videos for the website , came up with an idea. They hired models to be part of "a sexy new campaign," says Peone. "We kept it very vague."

The models were told to read cue cards:

What is sexy?

What are your deepest desires?

Lust is my mistress.

Then the director says, "Keep it sexy and really pour it on this time":

Almost 800 mothers and 18,000 young children die each day, mostly from preventable causes.

The models struggle to make statistics about maternal and child death and the names of diseases sound sexy. "This is not a sexy statement," one says. Another has to take a walk to collect himself.

After filming, the models were told they were part of a Save the Children video.

Watching the models squirm is a bit uncomfortable. "Feeling that discomfort at least for me was part of what made [the video] really work," says Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles. "The purpose was to get people to look at things like the State of the World's Mothers report we released this week. If I just put that message out there, we know a lot of people will tune out."

Both Miles and Peone are happy with the ad, which was produced mainly with donated services (although the unsuspecting models were paid).

There are two big questions to ask.

Is this weird, or what?

And will it be effective?

Yes, it is weird. "Weird, almost obscene," says Mead Over, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. "But I think it likely to work with people who might otherwise immediately switch news feeds or type TLDR." (Confession, I had to look that up. It means "Too long; didn't read.")

As for the ad's effectiveness, it is too soon to tell. Brad Bushman, professor of communications and psychology at Ohio State University, doesn't think it will accomplish much. He ran a study that looked at how well 108 subjects remembered an ad shown during a television program with sexual content compared with 108 subjects who viewed the same ad during a "neutral" program.

Those who watched sexy programs showed poorer memory of the ad compared with the ones who watched nonsexy shows, Bushman reports — because they were distracted by the sex. "Sex doesn't sell," he says. "The more intense the [sexual content], the more it draws attention away from the products."

Indeed, some of the comments for the YouTube posting of the Save the Children ad talk about how hot the models are. But others talk about the issues of child and maternal health. The hope is that some of those folks will click on the "learn more" slug at the end and perhaps make a donation.

As for the possible controversy over the "sexy" angle, controversy is nothing new to Save the Children. The organization's founder, Eglantyne Jebb, was arrested in 1919 for posting pictures of starving children in London's Trafalgar Square. Putting up pictures was illegal at the time. In court, the judge said he'd pay her fine because he believed in what she was doing.

Dare I say it: Now that's pretty sexy!

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit

Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.