A Billboard's Sad Story


Spotted on a highway out West, this billboard for Home Instead advertises a type of home care for the elderly, but the headline "You CAN be a daughter again" strikes an off note. It raises the questions:

  • What is the connection between being a daughter and senior care?
  • How does someone ever stop being a daughter?

Generally speaking, this billboard represents a well-intentioned but problematic attempt at using emotions and storytelling to convey a marketing message. Indeed, this ad is swimming in emotions of guilt and sadness. The picture feels somber, with the daughter's suffering expression and the mother's face turned away. Are these negative feelings going to compel daughters driving by in their cars to think of poor ol' ma and call the number? Perhaps...but the strong emotions might also depress them to the point of inaction.
As for stories, this billboard presents the characters of the daughter and the elderly mother. But what is the narrative? Perhaps it's that this daughter neglected her mother's care for so long that she effectively lost the right to call herself a daughter, and now this company, Home Instead, will allow her to reclaim that title? If this is how the storyline is supposed to go, it's a stretch. Ultimately, it's just confusing.
Effective stories manage to be both specific and universal, but this ad feels exclusionary. With the explicit focus on daughters, accentuated by the use of pink, the billboard comes across as somewhat sexist. It traffics in what a good daughter's role is supposed to be, while ignoring the fact that many adult sons are also concerned about their elderly parents. Whether by intention or oversight, the message is shutting out men. It reminds me of when diaper company Huggies faced a backlash when it mocked fathers as incompetent with babies. It's wise to be as inclusive as possible in marketing.
The tagline underneath the wordmark, "To us, it's personal" is another example of well-intentioned but awkward messaging. For one, it's about the company rather than the customer. What does Home Instead's "personal" attitude mean, and how might it benefit consumers? The answer's not clear. The tagline "To us, it's personal" also sounds vaguely threatening, like the tagline of an action flick. It turns out "This time, it's personal" was the tagline of Jaws 4: The Revenge.
How could this ad be improved? For one, clarify the storyline to make it clearer and more compelling. (The words and images would naturally need to reflect the changes.) The emotions should be more hopeful and positive. Negative messaging can be useful to spur immediate decisions, but positive messages tend work better when people are warming up to the idea of making a purchase. And everyone on this stretch of Western highway has plenty of time.