Merck has chosen the slogan “One Less” to advertise Gardasil, the HPV vaccine that helps protect women from the four kinds of Human Papillomavirus that are most likely to cause genital warts and cervical cancer. They advise women that by getting the vaccine, they (or their daughters) could be “one less life affected by cervical cancer.” Solid advice, but genital warts are never mentioned. Neither is the fact that HPV is sexually transmitted. But I’ve vented about all that here before, and today I have a different soapbox to stand on.
I realize that a commercial isn’t behavioral psychology, but there are some basic tenets which seem to carry over. Medicines for asthmatics, for example, aren’t marketed as “you’ll wheeze less!” Instead, they’re marketed as “You’ll finally be able to run through fields of flowers with your dog without stopping to take a puff on your inhaler!” Positive reinforcement, if you will.
Now don’t get me wrong: I, and the women I know, all want to be “one less” cervical cancer statistic. But in a culture that constantly negates women’s thoughts, women’s work, women’s experiences, is “One Less” really a wise slogan? Essentially, it’s negative reinforcement. At the very end of the television commercial, a group of girls are jumping rope and chanting “O-N-E-L-E-S-S, I wanna be one less (ONE LESS!)” I found it absolutely haunting. I don’t want those little girls to think of themselves as less! I want them to think of themselves as one MORE woman who is protected against HPV.
Am I being silly? Language is so incredibly important and so easy to overlook. Everything in this country is informed by a culture that negates women. Every little thing, even down to telling girls to be “one less.” While I’m sure those who designed the ad campaign weren’t thinking “Oh, let’s make young women feel reduced,” the language isn’t innocent or innocuous. Why use negative language when a positive phrase would work as well, if not better? Language has impact regardless of intent.That being said: if you're eligible, please consider being vaccinated. The you, too, can be one more woman protected against HPV.