10 Powerfully Creative Anti-Smoking Ads

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According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 443,000 people die every year from smoking-related diseases in the US alone. Besides costing the country over $96 billion annually in direct healthcare expenses, smoking harms practically every organ in the body – often devastatingly so. It causes lung cancer, lung diseases, heart disease, strokes, and a slew of other illnesses. Perhaps most disheartening of all, though, is that these smoking-related conditions are avoidable. Reducing smoking rates has a direct lifesaving impact, not only on smokers, but also on the people exposed to secondhand smoke. Here’s a look at 10 hard-hitting anti-smoking ads from around the world.

10. Anti-Smoking Helpline

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This anti-smoking advertisement is powerful and creative, with an attention-grabbing twist on most suicide and anti-smoking ads. It was created in 2008 by Bucharest-based Romanian advertising agency Mercury 360.

Although gauging the impact of advertising on smoking rates can’t be isolated from other factors that may have an influence – like smoke-free public areas and high tax rates on cigarettes – research still suggests that anti-smoking ads truly make a difference. Health economist Sherry Emery analyzed the impact of advertisements and found that “higher levels of exposure to the state media campaigns were associated with less smoking and more anti-smoking attitudes and beliefs.”

9. World No Tobacco Day

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This Chinese anti-smoking advertisement uses fear as a deterrent, and it’s not alone. Since the advertising landscape is already so cluttered, it can be hard for health-related ads to make an impact. Many health organizations use fear tactics in order to scare people into taking action. The CDC employed such a strategy for its “Tips from Former Smokers” campaign, and it soon had twice the number of calls coming in to its toll-free hotline and triple the amount of traffic on its website. Striking the right balance can be tricky, though. For it to be successful, the alarm stimulated has to be strong enough to motivate a change in conduct, but it does so at the risk of causing people to bury their heads in the sand.

8. Associação de Defesa da Saúde do Fumante (ADESF)

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The well-executed advertisement pictured above is both artistic and chilling. The ad was created for Brazilian organization Associação de Defesa da Saúde do Fumante (ADESF), an entity dedicated to communicating the adverse effects of smoking. It was designed by Brazilian ad agency Neogama BBH in 2008; but do advertisements like this work?

Well, some alarming ads could lead people to avoid the source of the fear (the frightening ad) rather than the actual threat (smoking). With this in mind, a key factor for success is ensuring that the advertisement offers effective and easy response options. CDC’s anti-smoking campaign, for example, encouraged people to call the organization’s quit-smoking hotline.

7. Cancer Patients Aid Association

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This powerful ad was created in 2009 by Canadian advertising agency Bleublancrouge for the Cancer Patients Aid Association. The Ad Week blog points out that it is even more effective because of the small details it includes, such as lip gloss on the cup. The ad suggests that even when all else fails, the smoker is still a slave to their habit – a message reinforced by the statement, “Cigarettes smoke people.” Still, although it’s impactful and creative, the ad would perhaps be more effective if it offered smokers some kind of step to take in order to quit.

6. National Health Service (NHS)

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In July 2005, ads like this appeared on TV channels, radio and billboards across the UK. The campaign was specifically created to target young people, who are less inspired to change their behavior because of health risks. The campaign was based on the fact that young people are more likely to be motivated by fears related to their sex appeal and fertility. According to the BBC, the results of one survey indicated that 50 percent of smokers would quit if it meant it would make them more attractive to the opposite sex. This makes the message above even more potent.

5. The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation

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The girl’s disproportionately large right arm in this UK advertisement is creepy and disturbing. London agency Chi & Partners created the ad in 2008 for The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. Prevention is one of the organization’s main goals – and this means both keeping young people from starting smoking and assisting smokers with kicking the habit.

Health economist Sherry Emery suspects that health campaigns work better when they present a lot of different information. However, a study has found that ads that present disturbing and fear-inducing messages at the same time are not effective; instead, it’s better to focus on one or the other in a single advertisement.

4. America’s Next Top Model

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Images like that used in this America’s Next Top Model advertisement can have a great impact. As one young girl put it, “All I knew before was that you could get cancer from it. I didn’t know you could get very ugly.” Yet while highlighting the breadth of the damage that smoking can do is effective, some such ads can backfire. Researchers Hye-Jin Paek and Albert Gunther conducted a survey involving students from four separate middle schools and discovered that the more often the children saw anti-smoking advertisements, the more likely they were to pick up the habit.

3. Child Health Foundation

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According to Paek and Gunther’s research, kids who believe their peers are being influenced by anti-smoking ads are less inclined to smoke themselves. Paek says, “That makes sense because people are more likely to listen to what their close peers say rather than what the media says.” The key is for health communicators to stress the fact that the majority of young people are non-smokers and explain why. Successful campaigns should focus on changing social norms, and they should run for a number of years.

The advertisement above targets smoking parents rather than young adults, conveying its message with subtlety and power. This ad was created by German agency Serviceplan for the Child Health Foundation.

2. California Department of Public Health

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This California Department of Public Health campaign specifically targets the state’s Spanish-speaking populace, with the text in this particular advertisement translating as “Escape now!” The ad was created by Los Angeles agency Acento as part of a program that’s been running for over two decades. From 1990 to 2009, the California Department of Public Health’s advertisements helped decrease the adult smoking rate by 42 percent. And the number of smokers who no longer smoke every day doubled between 1992 and 2008. According to Matthew Creamer, of Advertising Age, when the amount of anti-smoking campaigns decreases, so do the number of smokers trying to quit.

1. Chilean Corporation Against Cancer

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This disturbing image shows a child being suffocated by secondhand smoke, represented as a plastic bag. The text under the image reads, “Smoking isn’t just suicide, it’s murder.” Although the text may be a bit exaggerated and could easily turn people off, the image itself is quite powerful. The ad was created by Draft FCB + IDB for the Chilean Corporation Against Cancer.

All in all, it’s clear that creative, well-balanced anti-smoking ads can have a positive impact by increasing the number of people trying to quit, motivating young people to steer clear of the tobacco industry’s products, and changing social norms.

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