Top anti-smoking campaigns people don’t talk about enough

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Hi, darlings and welcome back again to a new piece, fresh out of the oven, ready to fry our fingers and our neurons. We have no Easter baked goods yet (sorry) but I will, hopefully, delight you with something else.

This article is one of the many that invites you to take a seat alongside me as we analyze everything advertising – campaigns, videos, advertisements, prints, what worked and what didn’t or, on the contrary, what didn’t work and why some of these “esteemed” creations should have never seen the light of the audiovisual world.

Last but not least, we’ll also put together our top picks for the most interesting (or disastrous) Romanian and international advertising campaigns, ads and prints.

But, let’s get back to our present topic…

Anti-smoking campaigns – should we care about them or not?

The present topic is one that sparks a lot of intrigue, for a bunch of reasons.

As promised, for starters, I’m going to invite none other than my treasured readers to answer the following questions, even if just mentally – how hard would it be to convince someone to quit a destructive habit, irrespective of what that is? Assuming you CAN determine someone to quit smoking via advertising, how hard would that be to accomplish?

Moreover, how hard would it be for you to do that despite the dozens of shocking images on cigarette packs depicting charred lungs and various types of cancer that don’t seem to move anybody, even less if we talk about avid smokers? I don’t know about you, guys, but my answer would range between “very hard and exceptionally hard”.

What approach would you go for if you were in charge of the creative concept for this type of advertising campaign? Would you go for informative, shocking, emotional? What elements pertaining to consumer psychology would you integrate and why?

I’m not a smoker, I hate everything relating to cigarettes and tobacco, from the stingy smell to the obvious risk of developing disease, to the price (I’d rather spend that 5 EURO on 3 days’ worth of coffee cause I’m hardcore like that, even if that comes along with being on edge, irregular heartbeats and anxiety but...oh well).

We’re not judging people’s vices on this wonderful blog, quite the opposite, I understand how addiction works, same for other things pertaining to psychology.

People have their habits – some smoke, others drink coffee, others spin the reels on online casinos. These types of habits don’t always degenerate into addiction, not for everybody. So, keeping that in mind, how do some anti-smoking campaigns manage to tackle the issue and hit straight to the target, especially in the case of avid consumers? Let’s discover together…

The end-goal of anti-smoking campaigns

We all know that, in the advertising industry, various means of selling products and services are being used, some clean and artistic (unique visual images, symbols, copywriting), others of questionable ethics, for example grossly exaggerating the benefits of the products you’re offering as opposed to the competition.

A large part of those means is also being used in social campaigns. Anti-smoking campaigns can be seen, in my point of view, as part of the broader category of social and awareness campaigns.

Their primary purpose is to increase the awareness levels of a certain behavior and the negative effects that behavior has on the individual doing it, as well as society on the whole.

Anti-smoking campaigns largely aim to persuade the target audience to either admit that smoking is damaging, change their attitude towards smoking or even quit smoking indefinitely.

Depending on the characteristics of that target audience, these goals can be met via the use of statistics and factual data, using authorities as vectors of communication, using shock imagery or, the opposite, emotional imagery or even an attractive source such as a celebrity to shape and deliver the message accordingly.

All of these efforts aim to persuade the recipients of the printed advertisements or TV spots to act or think in a certain manner.

And, since you guys know I’ve talked about copywriting enough to last you a lifetime on this blog, I would also like to add that, in the case of these types of campaigns, the copywriter’s role is paramount.

In order to persuade when it comes to such difficult and sensitive topics, the copywriter can go as far as to integrate psychology notions and principles when building advertising messages, creating unique mental and symbolic associations for the consumer etc.

Top anti-smoking campaigns people don’t talk about enough


The campaign belongs to Quit Victoria and the TV spot can be seen here.

We’re talking about a relatively simple creation – the ad presents a young boy who gets lost from his mother in a mass of strangers and starts to cry, thinking he was abandoned.

The audience is exposed to two different stimuli, in a chronological order – an emotional one (the image of the young boy that induces sensitivity, especially for women, because it taps into their natural, maternal instinct) and a rational one, expressed through the awareness-raising slogan as seen on the placard and the verbal message of the ad: “If this is how your child feels after losing you for a minute, just imagine if they lost you for life.”

And, for the perfect recipe, the emotional component is even more exacerbated stylistically by the background sound – there’s a sad tune being played, alongside the heart-wrenching cries of the boy.

What did this ad get right? I would say that precise sequencing of events and the not-at-all-random synchronicity. What do I mean by that?

The spot manages to blend in the emotional with the rational in a unique mix that hits the bulls-eye, the exposure to the former increasing the retention potential of the latter. If they hadn’t used the image of the crying boy beforehand, the audience would have been less susceptible to the rational message that followed “Quit”, the name of the company being a keyword and a call-to-action, all at once (quit smoking).

Assuming this entire ad would have only contained rational stimuli or statistics relating to smoking, for example, I doubt it would have had the same impact.

#2 NHS

Image source - x.

In our top picks, we’ll also include campaigns that, to my mind, haven’t chosen the best approach but still managed to draw attention, therefore deserve an honorable mention. The motto – “bad publicity is still publicity” is always debatable, so feel free to interpret that however you want or even disagree with me (as always, I accept swear words down below, in the comments section).

My opinion is that, in this case, what we’re seeing is an interesting approach that wanted to pass as emotional, which got ruined by bad execution, which is why, overall, I’d put it in the “bad publicity” category. Why? The print makes broad assumptions about a group of people based on a single negative personal characteristic, in this case being a smoker (the horn effect in psychology).

The print tells you, not very subtly, that smoking makes you an irresponsible parent, a gross exaggeration. This is the major critique that I’d bring to this advertising campaign – not all smokers endanger the lives of others, urging them or allowing them to „copy” their behavioral patterns. Smokers can also be responsible parents who shelter their children from their vices.

#3 Smoking approached from a non-fatalist perspective? No way, Jose...!

The Quit organization, same one that gave us example #1 also did another TV spot with a radically different approach – you can watch it here.

What do we really like here? As opposed to example #2, here smokers are portrayed as a much more aware consumer category, even one that’s eager to change. The protagonist of this ad observes his own actions and records his progress in his fight against his own vice almost mathematically, managing, through introspection and trial-and-error to change his behavior indefinitely.

I would say that this ad manages to humanize smokers in general – the actor is aware of his bad habit and the way it affects him and tries to quit smoking repeatedly, even if he doesn’t manage on his first try. In other words...nobody’s perfect. I’d say that’s a message anyone can resonate with, anyone who ever tried to do something and didn’t get it right straight off the bat, whether that’s quitting a bad habit or starting a business.

The fact that he analyzes his own behavior is suggested through sentences such as „First time I quit, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I lasted three days” that we hear at the beginning, leading to the final remark „Everytime you quit, you get a little better at it.” Moreover, he manages to assess his own behavior the same way the external observer, his girlfriend, does, the latter noting how cranky lack of smoking makes him.

This ad gets a generous mark from me for a very simple reason – it’s authentic and honest. We’re talking about a well-executed TV spot because it shows all the aspects, good and bad, that come with trying to quit smoking that every smoker has probably felt. Just like the actor, all smokers are aware that there’s a discrepancy between their behavior (smoking) and the attitude they have towards it (they’re aware that smoking is bad for them).

Only through introspection can you change your behavior, through trial-and-error, repeated until you succeed and I think that is precisely what the ad is urging the public to do. It doesn't tell you, in non-negotiable terms, that you need to quit TOMORROW or you'll die, it doesn't use shock, blood and pain to convince, it simply taps into human nature.

#4 Smoking makes you a reckless spender....or does it?

Image source - x.

Coming up with a very similar approach as #2, this print is taken from an interesting campaign that I’ve also talked about in one of my articles about copywriting.

I don’t know about you, guys, but I have mixed feelings about this one – on the one hand, I’d bow before the originality but, just like #2, I’d sanction the generalization and making assumptions about the target audience.

Through the use of the message „Daddy couldn’t give me pocket money” , completed by the image of the piggybank and the cigarettes, the print seems to suggest that an internal cause, a vice, in this case, smoking, is responsible for a bad financial situation. In other words, it seems to say that a personality factor – the predisposition to addiction – has a greater influence towards behavior than situational factors do.

The print assumes that the father cannot offer his child what he needs because he’s a smoker.

In reality, the father, the fictional actor of this print, might as well face financial hardships because of external events that have nothing to do with his need for nicotine or, quite the opposite, smoke because he’s stressed by an external problem, such as work.

Not very subtly once again, this print seems to assume that a smoker is more likely to be a reckless spender or an irresponsible parent. However, you can also be a non-smoker and be bad at handling money or neglect your child’s needs. Correlation is not causation. If we look at this print from an emotional perspective, it might move us a little, if we take it apart rationally...not so much.


These are just some anti-smoking campaigns that, to my mind, people don’t talk about enough, whether that’s fellow advertising enthusiasts or specialists in their published work. What other cool examples do you know, taken from the Romanian advertising industry or the international one?

Let me know! The comment section is always open.

See you next time – greetings from isolation!

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