This Top 10 List Is Not Funny

ATLANTA-“Lost Dogs” has been a howling success in Alabama.

Lewis Communications’ new print campaign identifying the state’s “Top 10” deadbeat parents as runaway mutts has been picked up by every major newspaper in the state. It triggered 130 television stories in a week and the imprimatur of Governor Don Siegelman.

“If you financially abandon your children, then you will pay for your actions,” warned Siegelman in a press conference. “Alabama’s children deserve better.”

The Birmingham shop, which handles the Alabama Bureau of Tourism & Travel and other state accounts, was originally commissioned by the Department of Human Services to design a “Wanted poster” identifying the worst offenders by name and photograph.

Lewis Communications art director Bryant Fernandez and his creative team came up with the “Lost Dogs/Have You Seen Us?” headline and body copy. The later states: ” … It’s in our nature to run off without paying child support. After all, we’re dogs.”

“The passion involved in this issue convinced us to go for the throat,” said Fernandez. “Too many other states were going with simple, straightforward messages. We needed to have an impact.”

The need is real. In Alabama more than 330,000 single-parent families are legally entitled to child support. Deadbeats owe more than $1 billion in child support; 10 percent are women. The Top 10 featured in the Lewis campaign are more than $900,000 in arrears.

“When we presented the ad, the people at DHS were, of course, a little nervous,” said agency president Larry Norris. “So we made sure it got to the governor. He jumped all over it.”

In the next few months, Lewis Communications will kick off the second phase of the campaign. Newspaper ads, titled “Hide and Seek,” will target Top 10 deadbeats in each of Alabama’s 67 counties.

Two individuals identified on the the statewide list have already been located. The Department of Human Services’ “Lost Dogs” Web site has had more than 2,000 hits, while hundreds of calls have poured into the department’s hotline. The only negative messages came from dog breeders who did not want canines maligned.

While it’s too soon to evaluate the bottom-line impact of the advertising campaign, Norris said one result is certain: “Deadbeats numbered11-20 will be grabbing their checkbooks.”