How many anti-smoking ads have you seen in your life? A million? Us too. Is there another “it’s going to kill you” message smokers haven’t heard? That’s the advertising challenge New York City handed us. A weird thought hit us. People don’t care about dying. Think about it. The perfect excuse to keep smoking is the “something is going to kill me anyway”. Yep, we see it. Why would I worry about cigarettes when in New York City an air conditioner can fall out a window and squash me like a bug (Yep, it happens). So why not enjoy my cigarettes before that AC hits me? If people don’t care about dying, what could we get them to care about? How about pure hell suffering? Suffering so bad you actually wished that AC would fall on your head.
Misery, before you die, is what anti-smoking ads never talk about. So that’s what we did. Just watch and listen. This guy at the kitchen table, that’s going to be your life. That woman having her husband change her diaper. That’s going to be your life. Crapping on yourself? How’s that for motivation to quit? It turns out diapers may have been the missing ingredient in anti-smoking ads all along. The phones at our Quit Line lit up and didn’t stop ringing. More calls than New York City had ever seen. And then Los Angeles ran the ad campaign and same thing. People desperate for help finally reaching out. They despised our campaign, but it did what it needed to do. It got them to take that first step.
Patients don’t do it. We said “spend just one day”. One day to see what the top cancer doctors have to say. Buffalo listened. Lives are being saved, every day. That’s what you call really rewarding advertising.
Fear creates stigma. We changed the message, the tone. It’s still about protection but not about being afraid.