Communication Studies


Master of Arts (MA)


Faith Mullen


Abortion, Advertising, Elaboration-likelihood model, Nonprofit, Pregnancy, Pro-life


Advertising and Promotion Management | Communication | Health Communication | Marketing | Maternal and Child Health | Public Health | Public Relations and Advertising | Women's Health


For supporters of the pro-life cause, crisis pregnancy centers (or CPC's) have become the "darlings of the movement," according to the New York Times (Belluck, 2013), offering women with unplanned pregnancies free advice, information, classes, childcare, and needed supplies. For abortion advocates, such establishments are intended to seduce vulnerable abortion-seekers into a situation where they will be counseled out of an abortion and possibly even proselytized. Yet for as much controversy as exists in the news media, medical community, and legal realm about CPC's, there is an unsettling lack of understanding of how--and why--CPC's market themselves the way they do. Their challenge is unique; they must "sell" non-abortive services to women who are oftentimes insecure, pressured, and abortion-minded. If one grants the right of such centers to exist, one must also grant their right to advertise. Do they market with active or passive persuasion, and does it accomplish the goal? To answer such questions, this study focuses on VirtueMedia, a notable pro-life marketing non-profit with connections to Care Net--the closest crisis pregnancy care equivalent of Planned Parenthood on the pro-life side. Using Petty and Cacioppo's elaboration-likelihood model, or ELM, this study uses both proprietary and traditional means of content analysis to explore the themes and persuasive routes exhibited in two contrasting VirtueMedia television commercial campaigns. The study found that of the two campaigns analyzed, both relied heavily on peripheral cues and passive forms of persuasion, but not to the extent typically assumed. Overt central cues played a prominent role in one of the two campaigns. Also, women's-issues framing of the description of CPC services--as a peripheral cue--differed vastly in both form and function, sometimes taking a form that abortion advocates could consider "deceptive," and other times existing alongside explicitly pro-life messages. The study, in fact, found that as inferred audience elaboration levels increased, the women's-issues message framing actually inverted pro-choice terms to draw attention to the tragedy of the post-abortive experience, showing a rhetorical strategy that is fluid depending upon the involvement of the audience--something again more consistent with brand positioning than deception. In sum, this ELM-based content analysis demonstrated that language typically indicative of pro-choice messages is employed by VirtueMedia as a brand positioning strategy rather than to intentionally obfuscate VirtueMedia's political views.