After Times Square controversy, breastfeeding billboards come to Philly

Erin McCarthy, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Business News

PHILADELPHIA — Drivers near Callowhill Street in Philadelphia and on the Pennsylvania Turnpike north and northwest of the city can now see a billboard that was, for a time, deemed too controversial for Times Square in New York.

With pregnant belly out and breasts covered by her cookies, said to stimulate milk production, cookbook author Molly Baz poses with the words "Just Add Milk" in an advertisement for Swehl, a breast-feeding company that partnered with Baz on the recipe.

"It's incredible," said Elizabeth Myer, cofounder of the one-year-old start-up and a New Jersey native. Her family now lives in Philadelphia and has been texting her excitedly with images of the billboards.

Less than two weeks ago, the same image of Baz was removed by Clear Channel Outdoor, the operator of a Times Square billboard where the ad had been in the digital rotation for days.

The removal prompted swift backlash, with some, including Baz, saying it was a "double standard" that Times Square billboards often show racy lingerie ads yet censor images of pregnant women.

It also prompted companies like Keystone Outdoor Advertising, which owns dozens of billboards across the Philadelphia region, to offer free advertising, Myer said, "in support of our message empowering moms and women to walk through the world as they choose."

The Cheltenham, Pennsylvania-based business is "mom-owned, and they were absolutely incensed by this," said Myer, who called the response an example of "moms supporting moms."


"As an organization, we didn't find the Swehl x Molly Baz to be provocative at all. Quite the opposite," said Monica McGrail, marketing manager for Keystone, where 70% of executives and employees are women. "Breast-feeding, lactation, and women's health content in general should be on everyone's mind."

Since Monday, the Swehl ads have been shown on three rotating digital billboards across the region.

One is near Fifth and Callowhill Streets in Philadelphia, visible to drivers and pedestrians near Northern Liberties, as well as motorists heading west on the Vine Street Expressway. Another faces the eastbound lanes of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, past Route 23, according to Myer and McGrail, and a third can be seen on the turnpike westbound in Lower Southampton, Pennsylvania, between the Route 1 and Route 611 exits.

Through the weekend, the ad will be on a constant loop with eight other advertisements at each of those locations, running for eight seconds at a time. Then for the next few weeks, Keystone will keep running the Swehl ads, free of charge, McGrail said, wherever they have unsold space.

Since the controversy, Swehl has also received free advertising in Los Angeles, where the company is based, and New York, where the probiotics company Seed has donated its Times Square billboard space for three weeks. Another company put the image on the side of a truck, Myer said, and drove it around New York for hours.

"It was a really nice happy ending, a cherry on top," Myer said of the support. "Everybody loves a David and Goliath story."

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