There has never been an advertising campaign in the US more effective in reducing tobacco usage among youth than Legacy’s truth campaign.
In 1999, the American Legacy Foundation was established as a public health organisation with a focus on tobacco prevention and education. Tobacco use was responsible for around 20% of all fatalities in the United States. American Legacy Foundation’s mission was to prevent youths from joining those grim numbers.
The ALF was established as a nonprofit public health organisation as part of a settlement between the tobacco industry and a group of attorneys general representing 46 states and 5 U.S. territories. The $206 billion settlement from 1998 saw ALF and other organisations get payments over five years.
truth®, first introduced by the American Legacy Foundation in February 2000, as the nation’s biggest and only tobacco industry-independent teenage smoking prevention programme.
The Scenario in 2000
Truth® aimed to dispel myths and discourage adolescents from taking up the habit of smoking. Adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 are the primary target of all initiatives.
One-third of teenagers who smoke will die early from a tobacco-related illness, and around 80% of smokers start using tobacco before the age of 18. Over 3,800 young people experiment with smoking every single day. An estimated 255 million packs of cigarettes were supplied illegally to children in 1991, and an estimated 924 million packets were smoked daily by people aged 12 to 17 in 1997.
More than 36% of US high school students smoked cigarettes in 1997, a 33% rise from 1991. 72% of high school students had tried smoking, and 86% of regular smokers bought one of the three most widely marketed tobacco brands, either Marlboro, Newport, or Camel, according to a study.
The vast majority of new smokers were under the age of 18, and the tobacco industry targeted youth specifically in its advertising and marketing. Prior marketing initiatives included price cuts on youth-favoured cigarette brands, product placement in films, the introduction of branded non-tobacco products (such as caps and t-shirts), and the sponsoring of music festivals and other events aimed at young people.
Tobacco business strategies, the reality of addiction, and the health and societal implications of smoking are all brought to light in the campaign, arming young people with the information they need to make educated decisions regarding tobacco usage. It aims to attract young people by revealing the tactics of tobacco giants in advertising and production and by showing the devastating effects of smoking in fresh and interesting ways.
- The youth knew that smoking was fatal.
The lack of knowledge wasn’t an issue. Teens were shown to be aware of the risks associated with smoking, but they did not see this as a major problem in their everyday life.
- In many ways, tobacco represented defiance and independence.
When asked why they smoked, most teenagers gave emotional rather than logical explanations. For many young people, tobacco use was a powerful, public, and easily accessible symbol of independence. Tobacco smoking was a radical act, a declaration to the world that the user was an independent thinker.
- One of the main selling points for cigarettes among young people was the fact that they killed.
Although it may seem contradictory, tobacco’s fatal features are precisely what made it so appealing to young people. Social campaigns in the past pushed the idea that smoking is fatal. What they failed to realise (but the tobacco industry did) was that they were increasing the likelihood that young people would take up smoking.
- Independence and choice were highly valued by the youth.
Although opinions varied, everyone agreed that social marketing and anti-smoking campaigns that stigmatise smokers should be avoided. Young people were unanimous in their desire to not have authority imposed upon them. They requested information so that they could make an informed choice.
Studies showed that many young people incorrectly assumed that farmers produced cigarettes; this campaign aimed to dispel that myth, educate young people about the tobacco industry, and mobilise them to demand transparency from the industry giants.
The truth® campaign has a lot of different parts and is always changing. It has ads, a website, social networking sites, interactive parts, events, and grassroots outreach through summer and fall tours.
The campaigns originally implemented by the advertising firms Arnold Worldwide and Crispin Porter & Bogusky, shifted the paradigm for how we talk to smokers and would-be smokers. Rather than sounding like your mother or father scolding you for lighting up, the campaign tried to sound like the cool kid at school who’s there to fill you in on a sinister plot.
“Body Bag” was developed at Arnold Worldwide, Boston, by creative director Pete Favat, copywriter Ari Merkin, agency producer Keith Dezen, and account supervisor Lisa Unsworth working with Truth marketing director Beverly Kastens. Filming was shot by director Christian Hoagland via Redtree Productions with the director of photography Marc Bloomgarden and producer R.J. Casey.
The strategy is the most intriguing part. The commercial is deliberately meant to be defiant. Instead of telling them “this is terrible for you,” try explaining why. You are being manipulated, the tobacco business is lying to you, which is essentially what they are saying. What this accomplishes is the use of young people’s inherent sense of autonomy and defiance to fight back against cigarette businesses. Indeed, and that’s the genius of it.
Truth TM stopped 450,000 young people from starting to smoke for life, which saved up to $5.4 billion in healthcare costs in its first two years.
The adolescent smoking rate has since dropped from 23% to 8% due in large part to this campaign.