I took the No More pledge last year. What do I have to show for it? I’m now very aware of when #NOMOREexcuses Law & Order: Special Victims Unit marathons are about to air, but that’s about it. I don’t know much more about domestic violence or sexual assault. I haven’t discovered new organizations working on policy or providing victims with services. I can’t say I feel smarter, wiser, or even nominally better informed than a year ago, when I took the pledge (i.e., signed up for an email list) around the time of the first No More PSA during the Super Bowl. I did get a ton of promotions for No More week, which features SVU marathons, one more direct promotion to watch a separate SVU marathon in August, and requests for me to promote No More on my social media accounts. That’s all.
No More already has my email address, and thousands more. Now they want our phone numbers, too. For a second Super Bowl in a row, the NFL is donating commercial airtime to a PSA for No More, a brand created by The Brands™ to help brands look like they care about domestic violence and sexual assault without actually doing anything. It was co-founded by one of the NFL’s crisis-management consultants, Jane Randel, and embraced by the NFL soon after it brought her on to help make the NFL palatable again after video of Ray Rice cold-cocking his future wife became public.
Like any good brand creation, No More is excellent at doing very little while acting like it’s changing the world. It doesn’t accept donations from the general public (but does solicit corporate sponsorships); it doesn’t provide services; it doesn’t give out numbers of how much money it’s helped raised for groups that do provide services. It “raises awareness,” a conveniently obtuse goal. As I’ve written before, it’s basically a sham.
All talk, little substance, and not a real charity, No More was a perfect fit for the NFL, and other places have followed suit. But more on that later. First, the matter of this season’s PSA. It ends with one request: text “No More” to 94543 to “learn how to help.”
What are they going to do with those phone numbers? If the emails I’ve been getting from No More for the past year are any indication, they’ll be using that information to promote themselves ... and Law & Order: SVU marathons.
On Friday, I sent an email to No More director Virginia Witt asking what No More will do with all these numbers. On Saturday, I called and left a voicemail. I haven’t heard back. So here’s a breakdown of all the promotional materials I’ve been sent via firstname.lastname@example.org. And make no mistake, that’s what these are—promotional materials with a dash of domestic violence and sexual assault thrown in. No More wants me to watch SVU marathons. And it also really wants me to change my profile picture.
9: Promoting either No More week, which features SVU marathons, or an SVU marathon (Feb. 11, Feb. 19, Feb. 27, March 3, March 10, March 17, Aug. 26, Dec. 9 of last year; Jan. 26, 2016). It’s worth pointing out that No More says it wants to raise awareness about sexual assault and domestic violence, but No More week is in March, outside of sexual assault awareness month (April) and domestic violence awareness month (October).
4: Promoting No More PSAs and asking me to share them on social media (Feb. 2, Sept. 10, Nov. 3, Feb. 4)
3: Asking me to promote other No More stuff on social media (Oct. 19 to create my own No More sign and share it on social media; Dec. 1 asking me to take an “unselfie” with the No More sign and share it on social media; Oct. 15, asking me to help make Terry Bradshaw’s video about wanting Greg Hardy out of the NFL go viral, four days after it happened).
2: Promoting the No More license plate in California (May 18, June 10)
1: Promoting the No More party at South by Southwest (March 18)
1: Promoting the launch of a Spanish-language version, Decimos No Más. (Nov. 19)
1: Offering me a 10 percent discount at the No More store in honor of domestic violence awareness month (Sept. 26)
1: Asking me to visit the No More gallery on their website and “share your own story of why you are speaking out against domestic violence & sexual assault.” (Oct. 5)
1: Asking me to forward to two of my friends an email about Chvrches’s Lauren Mayberry speaking out about abusive relationships (Jan. 15, 2015)
1: Promoting the Hunting Ground documentary (Feb. 24)
1: Alert that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (March 31)
1: Generic information about domestic violence and sexual assault (Feb. 7)
1: Wrap up of “what’s making headlines this week.” The links included Ray McDonald’s second domestic violence arrest as well as a link to sign up for a No More branded California license plate. (May 28)
Here’s an example of one email, from March 10, which was promoting No More Week. It included directions on how to change my profile pictures to their logo. Why? Because “changing your profile picture is one simple thing you can do to take a stand against domestic violence and sexual assault and to encourage your network to join the growing NO MORE movement.”
In true Pinktober fashion, I was told that changing my profile picture is actually the equivalent of taking real action on two very serious issues, the same way the NFL tells people that wearing pink and doing nothing else is fighting breast cancer. The NFL and No More were made for each other.
And yet No More week, the website says, is a “national grassroots activation aimed at making domestic violence and sexual assault awareness and prevention a priority year-round.” Believing this spiel about how grassroots it is requires ignoring all the facts. Like how No More Week is sponsored by Mary Kay, features a fundraising campaign aided by Verizon, and kicks off with a “NO MORE Excuses” Law & Order: SVU marathon. Then there’s the 36-page set of “visual identity guidelines” for using their logo, which was created by a national branding company.
And don’t forget the focus testing done before No More’s launch. There was a think tank too. Here’s one slide from a 2011 presentation on No More found by retired Florida judge Robert Doyel. The think tank has plenty of brand managers. It even has Google.
Even the No More origin story isn’t rock-solid. Last year, No More’s Witt told me that “the origin of NO MORE was a meeting of domestic violence and sexual assault groups in 2009.” But here’s a press release about the No More Tour “about violence against women in our society” from 2003. It was sponsored by Marie Claire and Liz Claiborne. Speaking on behalf of Liz Claiborne? Its vice president of corporate communications—and future NFL consultant—Jane Randel.
What’s up with all the SVU marathons?
While No More’s origin is tangled up in The Brands, its actions often align with Mariska Hargitay (a star of SVU) and her nonprofit Joyful Heart Foundation. From its start until recently, Joyful Heart Foundation was No More’s fiscal sponsor, a tool that allows 501(c)(3) public charities to take on a project. This was first reported by Doyel’s blog back in April. As the National Council for Nonprofits explains it, this allows the sponsored project to “attract donors even when it is not yet recognized as tax-exempt.” That’s why No More isn’t itself a charity; it’s a project housed within one instead. The fiscal sponsor files public tax returns. No More does not.
No More has since switched fiscal sponsorship to NEO Philanthropy, but Joyful Heart is, to all appearances, still very much invested in No More. No More branding is all over Joyful Heart’s website; Hargitay directed many of their PSAs, including those featuring NFL players; Joyful Heart sells No More merchandise, and last year, No More week featured an SVU marathon. In August, sans No More week, they promoted another SVU marathon using the No More logo.
This year’s No More week is a few weeks away. Here’s the first event listed on the week’s activities.
Help kickoff #NOMOREWeek by joining USA Network’s ‘NO MORE Excuses’ Law & Order: SVU marathon starting at 3PM e/2c. Participate in the conversation by supporting the #NOMOREexcuses social media Thunderclap.
The rest of the events are basically No More asking people to promote it on social media. There’s “Join Mary Kay & talk about what the phrase #ManUp means to you,” and “Read & share these blogs to help #KNOWMORE,” and, “add the symbol to your profile photo, your website, retail store window, or create your own NO MORE products.” Changing the world through changing my profile photo! Also, there’s a new addition this year: No More postcards. If only it were so easy.
What No More in action looks like
There are several local No More campaigns now, including those in California, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. But one campaign that caught my attention this year was in Memphis. It shows how the No More toolkit can be used to try and plaster over a bad situation with symbols and empty rhetoric.
A backlog in testing rape kits has mushroomed into a massive problem in Memphis, after it was uncovered that the city hadn’t tested more than 12,000 rape kits, some going back to the 1970s. The city is being sued over its failure to test to the kits. Memphis is rounding up money to get all the testing done (with the help of the Joyful Heart Foundation), but activists say that doesn’t address the policies that allowed the backlog to happen in the first place. There are still thousands of untested kits. There was a lot of bad news in Memphis, and this past spring the city launched Memphis Says No More.
It all looks quite splashy. There’s a slick website, a PSA, posters, and a signup form for another pledge. It certainly makes it look like Memphis cares. But that’s not what Whitney Wood told the Commercial Appeal. In 2013, Wood told police that her ex-husband “threw her into a wall and strangled her into unconsciousness,” the paper reported. Charges were brought close to three years later. What changed? Wood said the charges were brought only because she agreed to go along with Memphis Says No More.
But the bottom line, says Wood, is Memphis police wouldn’t take her seriously until she became the public face of ‘Memphis Says No More,’ a campaign backed by a range of victim-rights advocates and local government officials to raise awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Now, as officials look to expand the No More campaign and possibly air the PSA to a much larger audience on local commercial television stations, they face a defection within their ranks.
“It’s basically a PR stunt for the city to make it look like they’re starting to take gender-based violence seriously,’’ said Wood, 34. “I’m the woman on their posters. What does that mean for the rest of the women in Shelby County who want justice? Do you think they’ll actually get it?’’
The response from police and prosecutors, per the report, was that the failure to charge for three years was due to a “miscommunication.’’
Memphis still has thousands of untested rape kits. Memphis Says No More also continues. Any other cites with a “problem” can download a kit to pull off a similar campaign at the No More website. I know this because it’s the final line on the No More press release about how Memphis No More has “multiple levels of engagement” and “will reach every sphere of the Memphis community and compel them to join together in saying ‘NO MORE.’”
The press release kicker: “Want to start your own local NO MORE campaign? Download the free NO MORE Toolkit and email email@example.com for details.”
Should I text my number?
I sent a text message on Friday to the number advertised at the end of the No More PSA. Here’s what I’ve gotten so far.
So far, the “info” I’ve received to help to help my friends and family is a link to the No More website. Maybe after the Super Bowl I’ll get more information. Maybe I won’t. Whatever information I do get will probably be stuff I already knew or could have found in other places, without the teal circles and branding. Whatever I get is almost certainly of no concern to the NFL.
What does matter is that for 30 seconds, the league will look as if it is deeply concerned about domestic violence and sexual assault. It will look good and nobody will turn off their TV—basically, mission accomplished for Roger Goodell. After all, this is the NFL, and the motto isn’t protect the players or protect the wives or protect the children. It’s protect the shield.
Images via No More