- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2000

As communicators, we too often love what we're saying more than we love those we're talking to. They know it. You can't connect with people you're angry at."
The words belong to Jim Hanon, president of a small non-profit advertising and film production agency in Grand Rapids, Mich., a brilliant, pioneering, prophetic man who has crafted a new strategy for what he calls the art of communicating virtue.
It works.
Under consideration here, one item his pro-life television ads. But the real subject of this column, and of much of Jim Hanon's work, is how to win The War of the Ways, virulent successor to the Culture War that conservatism blew so dismally. The fundamental issue of the War of the Ways: What does it mean to be human in the 21st century, and how shall that humanity be protected and advanced, or restricted and destroyed?
So … abortion, one of the perennial battlefields. For many years, and for many reasons, the practice has been slowly declining. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control indicates a national 3 percent drop in 1997. But, according to Lisa Dotur, executive director of the Life Education Fund of Colorado, in the states where Mr. Hanon's commercials have run, abortion decreases have exceeded this norm: down 42 percent in Michigan, 23 percent in Colorado. An irrefutable causal connection? Not exactly; many factors are involved. Still, the confluence is striking.
And, says Miss Dotur, "I can introduce you to children who are alive today because of these commercials."
Before describing the ads themselves, a bit about Jim Hanon and his outfit, Compass Arts ( At the Point of Changing Culture ). Jim is a small-town boy, an artist who made good in advertising: vice president at the Leo Burnett Agency by age 29, working on the glitzy corporate super-accounts. An ardent Christian, he pondered for years how the media were trashing not just national values, but the very ability to distinguish between good and evil, virtue and vice. His intimate knowledge of the power of media, and how that power is generated, led him to conclude that virtuous ideas and causes could also be marketed .. . provided the quality of research and production equaled or exceeded that of the commercial competition. In March 1997, he founded Compass Arts to prove it.
The pro-life commercials are unique in several ways. First, they are based on serious communications and marketing research. This research determined that, although most women regard abortion as wrong, an unplanned pregnancy is often felt as a deadly assault upon a woman's very self. Being pregnant becomes the enemy; abortion, an act of self-affirmation and self-defense. That this sensibility may be the tragic result of feminist indoctrination, and the feminist self such a fragile construct, is less important here. The need is to talk to women as they are, where they are.
So Mr. Hanon and his team of colleagues and supporters concluded that pro-life commercials had to shift emphasis from the child to the woman and show that keeping the child could affirm the self as strongly as abortion. They also had to avoid divisiveness, horror (no "Silent Scream" tactics), and the too-often self-righteous-seeming invocation of self-evident truths. The spots targeting women in crisis are superbly produced: soft, mellow, subdued, much in the Hal Riney style Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" campaign commercials come to mind. There's a number to call at the end, but the spots tell women to trust their own inner voices; to remember who and what they are; and that life's detours happen, but need not damage them.
At first glance, the ads seem pure narcissism. Then you look again, and you find an appeal to innate virtue and reason. Two other spots address men with post-abortion problems, conscious or not. No, guys don't call counseling hotlines. But if you've been through this, and you're watching television at 1 a.m. alone with your beer, and one of these ads comes on unexpectedly … you'll be picking yourself up off the floor and you will not be the same again.
In short, what Mr. Hanon has done is to take one of the most strident issues in America, turn down the volume, and employ contemporary images and discourse in the service of human virtue and the right to life and make them part of America's culture. These ads do not argue. Nor can they be argued with, or dismissed as anti-woman hypocrisy masquerading as morality or religion. Their truths are, in the end, self-evident.
And they demonstrate that, using the tools that have so contributed to the trashing of America, it is also possible, as Mr. Hanon puts it, to replenish the reservoir of virtue.

Philip Gold is a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute in Seattle and president of Areta, a cultural affairs center.

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