The United States (US) has the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the industrialized world. Each year,some 75,000 American teens get pregnant, according to the Candie’s Foundation. This statistic, falling only short of a million teenage pregnancies, brings with it significant controversy. How should this be prevented? If it occurs, how should it be dealt with? Not surprisingly, these open-ended questions bring with them endless answers, carrying extensive moral and ethical rationalizations. Should the US be promoting abstinence -only education or a comprehensive sex education? How do prevention programs rhetorically fit within with the pro-life and pro-choice movements? In “The Rhetorical Situation”, Lloyd Bitzer defines an audience as one or more people capable of resolving an exigency or problem. Here the rhetorical audience would be the teenagers. However, prevention programs have made this problem more about ethical and political debates, rather than actually addressing the situation of teenage pregnancy and the best way to go about stopping it and dealing with it if it does happen.
At the age of 18, Bristol Palin, daughter of Alaskan Governor, Sarah Palin, went through the life-changing and controversial decision to have a baby. As her mother was running for the Republican Party at the time, the situation hit the public forefront immediately in a variety of ways. The nation wide discussion about whether or not her decision to keep the baby was the right choice spurred on-going debate for months. Following in her mother’s footsteps, as a pro-life advocate, she positioned herself as a supporter within the movement and eventually as an abstinence-only advocate for the Candies Foundation. However, her strategies at mobilizing support for the movement brought with them a new rhetoric that the pro-life movement and abstinence-only movement had not previously seen. This causing even more controversy as the framework of these individual’s beliefs were being threatened. Bristol Palin and the Candies Foundation have demonstrated the way’s in which social movement organizations can bring about a completely new rhetoric through the means of adaptive strategies. Therefore, the analysis of this is significant in both social movement theory and pro-life rhetoric. The foundation and its celebrity affiliates have received much scrutiny from the movement itself but in turn have received more attention than almost all social movements do in their lifespan. The Candies Foundation has introduced an objective reality that teenage pregnancy should be avoided by using stories, such as Bristol Palin's, as a means to directly relate to teens and in turn influence them. They discovered a new means of persuasion by utilizing Bristol’s story in a way that urges teens to wait, or as the campaign says “pause before you play”, illuminating the harsh realities of teenage pregnancies through the use of pop culture, celebrity appearances and ads.

Prior to the Candies Foundation, regardless of their aims and justifications for preventing teen pregnancy, social movement organizations surrounding the matter had presented their cases in ways unrelated to teens. Politics and religion are not the most exciting topics when you are 14. However, celebrities, humor, pop culture and music are. The Candies Foundation has taken this environment and shaped it through rhetorical agents, such as Bristol Palin, bringing change to the discussions surrounding it. Unarguably, the pro-life and pro-choice movements have a sense of universality, which are deeply embedded in religious and moral beliefs. However, the campaigns brought to the forefront by the Candies Foundation, are not about politics, religion, or abstinence versus contraception. But moreover, they are about preventing teen pregnancy and expressing that children need and deserve parents who are emotionally and financially stable. The ideological viewpoints, despite their implications, have been put into the background, making their campaign more relate-able to teens than any other campaign within these movements has proved before.

The Facts

In January 2011, the Candie's Foundation commissioned YPulse, a youth media research firm, to conduct a survey with 1,000 14-19 year-olds throughout the United States to compare impact and resonance of celebrity-driven teen pregnancy prevention PSAs with non-celebrity PSAs. Teens viewed four different video PSAs. The two Candie's Foundation PSAs featured Bristol Palin and Jenny McCarthy. The two comparison PSAs were produced by a national teen pregnancy prevention organization and featured non-famous teens. All four PSAs have received comparable national media air time. The tables below outline some of the key findings.


The political debate between the sides of pro-life and pro-choice has been going on for decades. The number of organizations working within these movements are countless and their rhetorical tactics at mobilizing support and action have varied considerably. With that said, it was not until the urgency and public attention sparked by Bristol Palin’s pregnancy, that the rhetorical foundation was re-evaluated and taken action upon. The undeniable results of the above study, proves the re-structuring of the teen pregnancy environment to be effective by that of the Candies Foundation.

What's with all the fuss?

The topic of Abortion dates back to Roman Catholic decent and is one of the few debates that stretches into realms of both individual’s public and private lives. Politics, sociology, biology, religion, sociology, and history all entail heated discussions about rights, morality, ethics life and death. The meanings, implications and controversies surrounding Abortion are inherent in complexity. The reason for these far fetched allegations is in part due to the ambiguity of the subject. The lack of a formal definition, putting into words when a fetus is deemed to be a person, has created much hostility and a wide variety of opinions stretching across the spectrum. On on end there are those against abortion, regardless of context. Where on the other end, there are those who believe that a woman has the rights to her body above everything else. Further, the area in between consists of numerous viewpoints, so many that it would be impossible for literature to document them all. There are limitless belief systems that exist in our world and these beliefs and values are what shape what we will refer to as, social movements. Social movements are groups working to promote or solidify their belief systems as the norm in any given society. Moreover, social movements are large informal groupings of individuals and/or organizations focused on specific political or social issues. They consist of any broad social alliance of people who are connected through their shared interest in blocking or affecting social change. The complexity of Abortion and the inability to deem a universal definition of what it scientifically entails has welcomed a wide variety of organizations to have countless viewpoints. The pro-life movement is not rooted in a single worldview, nor does it have a unified “master frame”. Moreover, becoming an activist does not have the same implications for the beliefs of each person who gets involved. As a result, the beliefs about abortion that new activists encounter are often fragmented and contradictory. This current case study examines how the rhetoric employed by the Candies Foundation and Bristol Palin present a contradictory message, veering away from its religious roots and bringing with it new rhetorical tactics. In order to examine how different social movement’s function within a broader worldview, this study will be analyzing the Candies Foundation as an interpretive system. Moreover, the foundation’s adaptive strategies, frames and persuasive efforts will be compared to traditional pro-life mobilization efforts and a contrast between evolutionary results will be made.

Theoretical Framework

Studying Social Movements: An Interpretive Approach

In the social movement literature, the social systems perspective is useful for examining the process of producing and mobilizing meaning on a mass scale. Essentially, by analyzing social movement’s as interpretive systems.Organizing the central ideas of a social movement is essential to the success of a movement’s persuasive tactics. Stewart et al. states “persuasion clearly permeates the efforts of social movements to promote or resist change and is the primary agency available for satisfying essential requirements” (1984, pg. 23). This rhetorical agent, then, plays an increasingly important role in a movement’s success or failure. Because of its importance and pervasiveness, it is increasingly significant to identify which effort’s employed by which social movement organization’s adhere the greatest amount of support. As previously mentioned, the Pro-Life view brings with it countless sub-views, all of which are grounded in a wide array of belief systems which carry with them their salient values about the larger world view the pro-life movement imposes. Further, it only makes sense that different organizations would employ different rhetorically persuasive tactics. Stewart et al. explains how “social movements must continually search for new tactics and adapt strategies to keep the movements alive and progressing, but each new selection or change may lead to conflicts within and between organizations” (pg. 73). To study the persuasive efforts of social movements and the different social movement organizations within them, this current study utilizes Stewart at al.’s question “which individuals, conceiving themselves to be what ‘people’ in what environment, use what relational patterns and what adaptive strategies with what evolutionary results?” (pg.40). My aim is to examine the revolutionary implication’s that the Candies Foundation and Bristol Palin have brought to the pro-life movement by analyzing the previously stated question and the organization’s introduction to rhetorical tactics which have not previously been utilized by the movement.

The Dynamics of Individuals, Influential Leaders and The Pro-Life Movement

Influential leaders and their followers are a key variable in any social movement. The persuasive efforts set forth by a movement are not done so without the influence of its members (Stewart et al., p. 40). Therefore, understanding and analyzing the theological development of influential members offers a more insightful and meaningful understanding of the social movement system of which they are involved. To merely compare leader’s background or behavior with the movement does nothing more than equate the two. To better understand and predict the way a social movement organization develops. One’s demographic, sociological, psychological, political and experiential traits reflect their belief systems and in turn their adaptive choices (Stewart et al., p. 41), ultimately shaping the way the movement and the organizations within it develops. Once we understand the dynamics of who individuals are, as previously explained, we can then try to discover who they think they are and further the interaction between the two. Micheal C. McGee is one of many who has recognized shared myths and pasts (p. 41) as the goldmine fostering the “people”s. Moreover, their self-conceptions and essentially “who they think they are”. The way an individual sees them self is rhetorically situated by their communication, this, giving insight to why they are a part of the movement they are. Many individual’s will continuously give justification’s for their efforts in addition to their membership; the psychological/sociological reasons for their rhetorical susceptibility to these characterizations. Moreover one might rhetorically communicate, my affiliation is because of X and my efforts are in order to bring about/resist Y. One’s affiliation to a group brings about a new dynamic and is something beyond individuality. Stewart et al. explains that when “you” and “I” create an “us” a relational system is created and the parts of this system must adapt to the environments present. The self-conceptions of movement leaders and members are not always consistent with the demographic or experiential profiles. Therefore, there is always a constant need for negotiation and re-negotiation of the movement’s current environment and the organization’s framed identity. Stewart et al. confirms this important variable in his statement, “real people, not rhetorical creations, take action” (p, 41). What environment is a given movement functioning? This information is key to any social movement organization’s success. The fact is, the environment and the individual’s within it, go hand and hand. Both are simutaneously effecting eachother. An individual’s ability to adapt to a given environment is dependent on the characterizations of the sub-systems within it and in turn the way that evironment is developed is in response to the organism’s adaptive behavior. With that said, it is imperative to recognize that one’s experiences and relationships both frame and are framed by the environment, creating an inter working world in which a movement must survive. Our experiencs and our relationships help us construct vocabularies and logical frameworks that we use to “make sense” of the world. Moreover, they are the theoretical frameworks that we interpret people and events through and when something doesn’t fit, restructuring must be done.

The Dynamics of the Candies Foundation

Candie's is a clothing brand started in 1981. Originally a Charles Cole "El Greco" line of shoes, the brand was purchased by Iconix Brand Group in 1993. Since 2005, Kohl's Department Stores has had exclusive rights to the Candie's brand in all departments except shoes. Instated in 2001, works to shape the way youth in America think about teen pregnancy and parenthood by developing communication campaigns to raise awareness about, and motivate teens to prevent, teen pregnancy. They approach the situation in a unique way “all of our ads use celebrities that teens can relate to, in a style that speaks to teens on their own terms. We go beyond raising awareness; our goal is to influence teen culture.” As previously illustrated, research has shown that teen girls who have been exposed to the foundation and its messages are more likely to view teen pregnancy and parenthood as stressful and negative, and they are more likely to be skeptical of the media's portrayal of teen pregnancy and parenting. They also think teens should wait longer to have sex than girls who are not aware of the foundation and its messages. Bristol Palin and Vanessa Hudgens are the current Candie's spokesperson. Britney Spears was the previous spokesperson (2009-2010), while Hayden Panettiere, Fergie, Lil Kim, Ashlee Simpson, Hilary Duff, Kelly Clarkson, Jenny McCarthy, Vanessa Carlton, and Ashanti have also represented the brand.

The Persuasive Tactics: The Pro-Life Movement & The Candies Foundation

In theory, social movements must transform perceptions of social reality of the past, present and future. The persuasive efforts of the pro-life movement, prior to the Bristol Palin rhetoric, significantly focused on the past by reflecting of the horrors of the illegal and self-induced abortions audience’s that didn’t need to be sought out and were easily accessible. However, audiences such as teens have been harder to reach because of their inability of reflecting on past times and relating. In the article Time to Rethink Antiabortion Strategy, Winters explains how "It is time to rethink pro-life strategy, and that rethinking must include new arguments aimed at persuading our fellow citizens, a new political and cultural approach to abortion itself." This is just what The Candies Foundation has done.

Social movement persuaders search for words to communicate the urgency of a perceived problem and the need to take action. This is where the Candies Foundation utilized their goals and secured them by relating them to their audience. Their ability to make the lives of teens relevant and comparable to their campaign efforts, is a key factor that separates them from other organizations within the pro-life movement. Their comforting and loose approach to the situation on teenage pregnancy avoids confusing terminology, religion, moral implications or any other tactic that brings with it complexities a 14 year old unconsciously ignores. Rather than persuade through the testimony of nurses and doctors giving accounts of aborted fetuses being bashed or smothered to death because they would not die, they use storytelling as a means of relate-ability. The imagery, emotions and values of celebrities or people they can relate to makes for a more powerful means of portraying a reality that is significant to the audience. Winters believes that rhetoric matters, not only because it is the vehicle for persuasion in a democratic society, but because it helps us explain ourselves to others. She goes on to explain how rhetoric is not only to describe reality, but our rhetoric shapes our reality, especially our human reality where we make value judgments and wrestle with existential questions. Getting the audience to take a step back and think “this could really happen to me” is something that the Candies Foundation has successfully done, while other organizations have failed to do so. Furthermore they also portray a vision of the future that instills a sense of urgency in the pro-life audiences.

As illustrated in the videos above, a 14 year old would be more inclined to pay attention and understand the message from the angle of a pro-life activist from this lens rather then one from nurses or doctors testimonials. Having a having a child at 18 is not an idealized value among the majority of Americans.

Further, the scare tactic of being “that kid” in your high school getting pregnant, can be pretty frightening. Moreover, the Candies Foundation utilizes this through the rhetorical agents of celebrities in a way that is easily understood by the audience of which it is aiming to adhere support from. According to Abort73.com at least 80% of all abortions are performed on unmarried women and 50% of U.S. women obtaining abortions are younger than 25; women aged 20-24 obtain 33% of all U.S. abortions and teenagers obtain 17%. These statistics indicate that the pro-life movement has been using the wrong tactics, aimed at the wrong audience. Regardless of religious beliefs and affiliations, in order to mobilize support in a way that the Candies Foundation has, organizations need to transform perceptions of its audience. Further, the only way to do so is through rhetorical strategies that are applicable to the rhetorical audience in order for them to make sense.

Faith-based organizations have hoped to better define what the societal norm should be for teenage sexual behavior and proffer that message, in an attempt to change our youth’s values system. However, the inability to relate to the audience has been a roadblock for many pro-life campaigns in adhering the support from the individuals in which the debate incurs over. Stewart et al. explains how it is inherent in many social movement messages that society is in the final battle between good and evil, one step away from disaster (p. 57). This tactic, however, needs to be utilized in relation to the rhetorical audience. A picture of dead babies is not what is mobilizing teenage abstinence or inducing a decline in teenage pregnancies. But rather, it is the messages equating disaster to having a baby prematurely, ruining you life, that is adhering attention, which we see through the lens of Bristol Palin. Moreover, it is important to point out that she loves her baby and appreciates the lifestyle she has been offered to raise him in but that if she wasn’t in that position, the lifestyle she could live could be so much worse.


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The Candie's Foundation. 2010. Web. May 2011. <http://www.candiesfoundation.org/>.

Cole, Neil. "Teen Moms See Reality - Not Politics - in Candie's Foundation/Bristol Palin PSA." Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. 20 Apr. 2010. Web. May 2011. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/neil-cole/the-candies-foundationbri_b_545139.html>.

"Facts About Abortion: U.S. Abortion Statistics." Abort73.com / Abortion Unfiltered. Web. May 2011. <http://www.abort73.com/abortion_facts/us_abortion_statistics/>.

"How the Pro-Life Movement Should Gauge Success." Texas Right to Life. Web. May 2011. <http://www.texasrighttolife.com/a/114/How-the-ProLife-movement-should-gauge-success>.

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Winters, Michael S. "Time to Rethink Antiabortion Strategy." National Catholic Reporter. Web. May 2011. <http://ncronline.org/news/justice/time-rethink-antiabortion-