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Planned Parenthood Sought ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ to Boost Right-to-Choose Ad

The popular drama “The Handmaid’s Tale” has sparked theatrics of a very different sort.

Planned Parenthood was eager to use the dystopian Hulu series, which depicts a world in which fertile women are forced to become child-bearing servants, to make a point about the pending Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh and the effect it could have on a woman’s right to choose an abortion. It has not been able to do so because a commercial the advocacy organization wanted to run in the series and alongside other Hulu content does not meet the streaming-video services’s standards for political ads.

Executives at the organization were surprised. “Hulu’s decision shouldn’t stop Americans from learning about what’s at stake for women and our bodies with Kavanaugh’s nomination, and from calling their senators to oppose his nomination,“ said Dana Singiser, Planned Parenthood’s vice president of public policy and government affairs, in a statement.

Hulu ran ads from Planned Parenthood as recently as June, but just as broadcast-TV networks do, tends to avoid political ads that focus entirely on a controversial issue. “We have accepted ads from Planned Parenthood numerous times in the past — as recently as last month — but as a platform that serves millions of viewers with many different viewpoints, we adhere to industry standards on political ads,” Hulu said in a statement. “We are proud of Hulu’s impact in highlighting women’s issues through our original programming and will continue to further that dialogue both inside and outside our company.”

In the commercial, a range of different women talk about the landmark Roe v Wade court decision of 1973 and its importance. “Now’s the time to join the fight,” says one woman, while another continues, “and protect our right to safe, legal abortion. Planned Parenthood had signed a deal to run the ad, according to people familiar with the matter, but Hulu ad agreements are, like many, subject to reviews of content.

The difference of opinion between advertiser and media outlet shows how fraught such relationships can become in an era when a polarized consumer base is more prone to get offended by advertising and content. In recent months, different subsets of viewers have expressed outrage at Samantha Bee, Laura Ingraham, a Megyn Kelly interview, a Pepsi commercial featuring Kendall Jenner and even a New York-based interpretation of Williams Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”

Planned Parenthood has aligned itself with “The Handmaid’s Tale” several times. Planned Parenthood was provided with episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale to do regional screenings across the U.S. The show partnered with Planned Parenthood on a video with the cast and executive producers. And the show took part in a recent fundraiser, where proceeds went to Planned Parenthood, and the winner won a visit to the show’s set in Toronto.

In this case, Planned Parenthood feels an urgent need to speak out around the looming Supreme Court nomination, says Singiser. “We need to raise the alarm around how Brett Kavanaugh would tip the balance of the Supreme Court against the right to safe, legal abortion in this country.”

Many entrepreneurs and marketing organizations often submit commercials that are perceived as too extreme or partisan for mainstream media, and then work to get attention from media outlets by claiming the commercials were rejected. Oftentimes, the ads were never going to be suitable to run on a broad-based media outlet. The method often comes to the fore around the Super Bowl, when marketers who can’t afford the price of a commercial or who never intended to run an ad directed at general TV audiences claim their ad was rejected by a network like CBS, NBC or Fox in an effort to reap free publicity. Planned Parenthood says it is merely trying to raise public awareness about issues at stake in the Senate’s confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh.

Political ads can be quite common on TV. Media outlets typically accept hundreds of ads from political candidates during election years. But they do not have to accept ads from third-party organizations.

Even so, some political ads have become the stuff of popular culture, as anyone who remembers the famous 1993 “Harry and Louise” campaign might tell you. The ads, run by health-insurance lobbyists, shows a middle-aged couple talking about medical bills that were no longer covered by a new medical plan. The campaign launched as President Bill Clinton tried to draft legislation for universal health care. Its message, however, was muted and toned down

Planned Parenthood in June was counseled by Hulu executives about a series of ads the organization wanted to run, according to people familiar with the matter. When Planned Parenthood was informed one of the spots would not meet guidelines, it agreed to run other ads, these people said. Hulu executives felt they had at the time made Planned Parenthood aware of its content standards, but Planned Parenthood executives believe a hard policy about ads had never been communicated to them.

Planned Parenthood even notified Hulu executives via email that it intended to go the media to generate publicity for the ad Hulu declined to run. “Because this Hulu ad buy was a major part of our SCOTUS ad campaign, we decided to go public with this news,” Planned Parenthood said in an email that was reviewed by Variety. Planned Parenthood hoped the email would prompt Hulu to reconsider its stance, according to one of the people familiar with the situation.

The actual commercial has run on YouTube. It was not clear if Planned Parenthood had submitted the commercial to any TV networks for air.

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