Kid Drownings

After decades of failure, the well-intentioned still don't get it

When watching a decade of footage in rapid succession, the only clues as to which year it is are Munsey's hairstyle and Khan's mustache.

The firefighters turned repeatedly to the media, but by the '90s the press had begun to respond differently. Each outlet began to diversify the campaign, each trying to come up with the new, magic slogan that would cut the numbers again.

After 1990, and over the next 10 years, new campaigns cropped up at almost every television network, radio station and newspaper. There was Water Watchers 12, Enough Is Enough, One Is Too Many, Two Seconds Is Too Long. Over the next few years, the campaigns piled up almost as fast as the dead kids -- and the one thing that each new campaign had in common was a branded, promotional tie-in to the sponsor or network.

The message began to shift and diversify. This resulted in a myriad of messages with the veneer of civic journalism -- not inherently wrong, but less effective than the original, unified effort.

"None of the messages were bad," states Richardson. "It's just that anyone who knows anything about marketing or advertising can tell you that the reason successful products or campaigns work is because they have a consistent message. We lost that."

According to Richardson, the Federal Communications Commission was extremely interested in the late '80s and early '90s in seeing public service announcements (PSAs) on broadcast media. When cable television became king, Richardson says that the FCC was "less impressed" with PSA efforts and stations began to use promotional tie-in spots produced by corporate sponsors instead of traditional PSAs, which had been free of ulterior motive.

Richardson thinks that the shift in the FCC's emphasis was what changed public service announcements forever. "The new thought process of the FCC was what spawned the movement toward proprietary messages.' Now, a network can fill its quota with a spot [paid for] by a for-profit company, and that's just not going to be as effective."

He cites the Partnership for a Drug Free America ads from the early '90s. The ads made the words "This is your brain on drugs" a household phrase. Everyone all over the nation heard and knew these ads. This was the type of PSA that was popular before the shift. Now, the PSAs tend to be branded with a corporate message, and each television and radio station has its own version.

The problems that arise when a PSA is looked at as a money-making tool instead of merely a pro bono piece of airtime is that if a station wants to make money on its PSAs, it needs to sell each issue to a sponsor. This means that, in order to make a profit on the PSAs for drownings, each station has to have its own message that it can sell to advertisers -- which means diluted messages and constantly rotating tag lines to create new opportunities to sell the "paid for by" line.

SRP paid to be mentioned as a corporate sponsor of Target Zero. Its logo appeared in the morning newspaper's ads, and its name was mentioned on Channel 12's spots.

Channel 11, the government access channel, created new, non-promotional PSAs and no one ran them. They were free of charge, but they could not be sold to sponsors, so they only aired on public access.

According to Richardson, the crucial impact is the loss of the unified effort.

"When we started Just a Few Seconds, we had a kickoff luncheon, and every media outlet, possible sponsor and fire department was there. They all signed off on it. But could you get all of those people together in a room today to work on the same project? I don't think so."


Every time a new campaign is planned, many factors that have little or nothing to do with the drowning-prevention effort come into play. For example, if one TV station sponsors a campaign, other stations are less likely to sponsor it. And a recent pool fence giveaway sponsored by Fulton Homes met with opposition from the firefighters because the developer was non-union.

The division and the conflicts have an effect.

According to numbers from the CDC, the mean average of Arizona children drowning from 1990 to 2000 was 25 kids per year. Though better than the previous decade's average of 30, it was a far cry from the drop in numbers that the initial campaign received.

As broadcasters and newspapers tried to coax money out of what was initially proposed as a public service effort, community organizers were left with little to do but go along with the numerous campaigns and hope to sustain the results.

A campaign called Enough Is Enough came out in 2001, sponsored by the Fire Fighters Union local, Phoenix Children's Hospital, Channel 3, Domino's Pizza, La-Z-Boy, and Lowe's hardware. The campaign took a bit of a tougher attitude, stating, "Enough is enough -- take responsibility for your children." But the ads drew complaints because they were very graphic, and a year later, the campaign was shelved.

The Arizona Republic did a canon of stories on drowning incidents, prevention and water safety in 2001.

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4 comments
Diane Moore
Diane Moore

The solution to this is soooooo simple, yet seems to be too much trouble for these parents. All they have to do is WATCH their children... and be sure they are taught safety in and around water. My grandbaby is 2 1/2 years and can swim like a fish. He is just finishing an ISR Swimming course this week... I do NOT believe in fences, they give false security. I raised 5 extremely active (and sometimes naughty) children without a fence around our pool, and they are all grown up now... I can appreciate that parents are busy sometimes, but it only takes a few seconds to safely strap a baby/toddler in their high chair, or put a baby in their crib or playpen... and KEEP the doors and windows locked. When my grandbaby visits our home, I wear the key to the backyard around my neck... so I know its locked. Also, I am aware of where he is EVERY single second while he is in my care. Thats all there is to it.

Susan Freyer
Susan Freyer

Don't you sleep? Ever? Children get out when parents and children are supposedly sleeping. It happens. But yeah. It's sooooooo simple.

David Stone
David Stone

Or maybe it's the shitty parents who are having too many kids? Jesus Christ, you fucking Arizona idiots make me sick.

Family
Family

were u with my cousin when this happened? what was her reaction? where was steven ( her Husband) or clifford? what did she say? i dont mean to bother you or bring up something unpleasent but i have heard it was no accident what happened to the boys. and i am trying to find out the truth

 
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