CDC’s Anti-Smoking Campaign Catches Fire

April 24, 2012
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ImageHave you seen the new anti-smoking commercials yet? A young man, only 31, wakes up in the morning and puts on his prosthetic legs; his original legs had to be amputated due to his smoking. A 3-year-old boy breathes through a machine; secondhand smoke in his neighborhood triggers his asthma.

ImageHave you seen the new anti-smoking commercials yet? A young man, only 31, wakes up in the morning and puts on his prosthetic legs; his original legs had to be amputated due to his smoking. A 3-year-old boy breathes through a machine; secondhand smoke in his neighborhood triggers his asthma. In other television spots from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Tips From Former Smokers” campaign, other real people, not actors, share their stories of cancer, heart attacks, strokes and other medical conditions caused by smoking.

 If you’re someone who works for a healthcare or marketing organization, you owe it to yourself to spend some time on the campaign’s website: www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips. These real stories are powerful and heartbreaking – and they’re working! In the week after the March 19 campaign launch, calls to the national support hotline 1-800-QUIT-NOW doubled (from less than 14,500 the week before to more than 33,000) and visits to the anti-smoking website http://www.smokefree.gov tripled (from about 20,000 to about 60,000).

So far, this national anti-smoking campaign is a resounding success. The commercials are creating buzz, and, more importantly, smokers are seeking help. While it’s important for us in the healthcare and marketing industries to celebrate these drastic results, it’s also worthwhile to examine why this campaign has been so effective. Whether we’re working on an anti-smoking initiative of our own or any other health issue, we should seek to emulate the success of “Tips From Former Smokers.”

Get Real

The fact that the commercials feature real people, and not actors, makes them more believable and relatable to viewers than scripted, staged and overly produced spots would have done. Viewers not only feel sympathy for these former smokers whose health has suffered so dramatically, they feel empathy, too, a feeling of “there but for the grace of God go I,” or “that could me be in a couple of years if I don’t quit.” Actors, no matter how realistic they are, are always playing someone else. But the people in these commercials are simply being themselves. Their stories are true – but more importantly they feel true. They feel authentic.

Don’t Just Scare, Surprise

By now, doesn’t everyone know that smoking is bad for you? After years of smaller-scale anti-smoking campaigns, warning labels on cigarette packages and advice from physicians, everyone should be aware that smoking is a leading risk factor for cancer, emphysema, heart attacks and strokes. Everyone knows that smoking kills. The challenge for any anti-smoking campaign then is to tell people something they don’t know, something that will surprise them and catch their attention.

Several of the stories in this campaign mention cancer, as any anti-smoking campaign should. But several other stories feature health problems that most people might not have heard of before. One of these attention-grabbing illnesses is Buerger’s disease, a disorder linked to tobacco use that causes blood vessels in the hands and feet to become blocked and can result in infection or gangrene – and in the case of one former smoker, amputation of his legs.

Another surprise of the campaign is the age of the storytellers. Brandon, the Buerger’s disease sufferer, is just 31, decades younger than the stereotypical victim. Many of the storytellers were diagnosed with their diseases in their 40s, before many people would even consider them middle-aged.

We’ve all seen anti-smoking ads in the past that relied on scare tactics to get their message across, ads that relied on either cold, hard facts or disgusting images. The problem is, we’ve seen the death rates and the blackened lungs too many times to be frightened by them anymore. They’re too easy to tune out.

As scary as they are, the stories in this campaign have not been told before. They are fresh, eye-opening and memorable. They drive home the point that the negative consequences of smoking can happen at any age, and in any part of the body, not just at the times and in the places one might expect. Messages like these are harder to ignore.

Point the Way to Help

Of course, these “Tips From Former Smokers” stories would be incomplete without a call to action, without letting people know that help is available. The commercials, website and other educational materials all point people in the direction of help. They don’t just dwell on the negative aspects of smoking. Instead, they make sure to mention the hotline and website that offer people the tools to change their lives for the better.

Knowing that help is out there and that other people have shared their struggles has already inspired thousands of people to make that call and visit that website. With such an overwhelming response, even with several weeks remaining in the campaign, the campaign is already a success.

The commercials point the way; the current smokers who are now trying to quit are following their lead. If only all of our campaigns had the power to change so many lives.

 

 

 

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