A HISTORY LESSON
How would you market life if it were a product?
In 1974 Carl Landwehr worked with other pro-life leaders in Missouri to form the Missouri Citizens for Life Education Fund. An office was opened in Jefferson City, the Missouri state capital, and work began with a goal to help concerned pro-life citizens and groups carry on traditional educational efforts in their community.
As these efforts grew, Carl realized that to be effective at the grassroots level, hearts and minds had to be changed. Education on a grander scale was necessary. Carl led a group of businessmen to consider the question, “How would you market the product of life if that was your business?”
The response – to use mass media to bring realistic debate about the abortion issue into the mainstream public arena in Missouri by addressing attitudes without politicizing or radicalizing them. This was done by designing commercials which addressed the abortion issue in a non-threatening way, and simply asked people to “Think about it.” The first educational message was aired on TV in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1992.
In 1993, the organization’s name was changed to Vitae Society. Soon Vitae commercials were seen in all major markets in Missouri and on the radio network that carried Missouri Tiger football and basketball games.
As Vitae encouraged people to begin thinking about the abortion issue on a heartfelt, caring level, President Carl Landwehr realized that without sufficient research of into its target audience, primarily women facing a crisis pregnancy, the money invested in creating ads and purchasing air-time would likely be misdirected. With a focus on research, nationally-recognized consumer psychologist, Dr. Charles Kenny of The Right Brain People ® was sought out. His research, which endeavored to better understand the feelings and emotions of women faced with untimely pregnancies, provided the basis of information for Vitae’s message development and changed the landscape of the entire pro-life movement. Paul Swope outlined the findings of Vitae’s first study and wrote the article “Abortion: A Failure to Communicate” which was published by the First Things magazine in April 1998. This became their most widely searched for article and is still being included in training manuals of pregnancy help centers.
Before long, other pro-life groups around the country were asking Vitae to help them get ads on the air. As Vitae Society outgrew its Missouri focus, The Caring Foundation (CF) moved operations from Michigan to Missouri and became a conduit for bringing the Vitae message to national media outlets. Sharing a common board with Vitae Society, in 1995 a national media education effort was implemented. This effort became a national and international force.
On February 27, 2002 the efforts of both organizations were merged to become the Vitae Caring Foundation (VCF), a public charity which was registered for charitable solicitation in 39 states, including the District of Columbia.
As communication preferences shifted to the Internet, Vitae began searching for ways to optimize this medium. Vitae’s corporate site www.vitaecaringfoundation.org, was initiated in 2002. In January 2003 through 2014, Vitae launched and maintained a website to communicate with teens about life issues. Through teen stories and input, Gravity Teen was designed to help build confidence and personal power in teens who face peer pressure, teen problems, pregnancy and more.
For the 18 to 24 year old female audience and her circle of influence, in January 2009 Vitae launched a new site called www.youroptions.com. This site was designed to help women who may be pregnant and scared find a safe, comforting and reassuring place to go where her fears may be relieved. Here she could be empowered and find stories of other women who discovered that plans can be altered to include giving life to a child.
On July 17, 2008, Vitae changed its name to the Vitae Foundation and refined its mission statement to “encourage a culture of life through mass media.” With the dawn of smart phones, where women—as consumers—go to purchase both goods and services, Vitae entered the world of digital advertising in 2008. For the 18- to 24-year-old female audience and her circle of influence, in January 2009 Vitae launched YourOptoins.com. This site was designed to help women who may be pregnant and scared find a safe, comforting and reassuring place to go where her fears may be relieved. Here she could be empowered and find stories of other women who discovered that plans can be altered to include giving life to a child.
In 2015 Vitae’s seventh research study “Saving Grace” delved into the mind of the Planned Parenthood client.
Vitae brought its marketing efforts in-house in 2017. With this cost-saving move, Vitae could be sure that relying on its expertise would mean all facets of its marketing efforts would remain true to the research. That same year Vitae launched the Judy Borst Digital Information Console, putting Vitae research at the fingertips of pregnancy centers across the globe.
In order to be more strategic with its marketing efforts, Vitae committed in January 2020 to a new approach building upon the research it has cultivated on abortion decision-making, sharing that research with other pro-life entities and reaching women and helping them find life-affirming alternatives when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.
THE LEGACY OF DON AND RUTH ANN SCHNIEDERS
In 1992 Vitae Founder Carl Landwehr knew there was no playbook from which to draw upon for tactics, strategies or goals. “No one was engaged in attempting to change the American culture by restoring the values that affirm life and families. It was Don and Ruth Ann Schnieder’s belief that the first and most important tactic was to take the Vitae mission and invite people to support the effort,” Landwehr noted.
That is exactly what they did. The Schnieders invited 70 people to the first fundraising backyard barbecue in the spring of 1992. They furnished food and beverages for the attendees and shared with them the importance of what Vitae was doing — educating the public about the value and sanctity of human life. That first barbecue, with 40 people in attendance, raised $18,000 for the organization. The Schnieders’ continue to host Vitae’s Jefferson City event, with as many as 1,200 people in attendance!