Anti-vaping ads show the power of the asterisk
They’re the ads with the asterisks, and they have the vaping community in an uproar. In a multifaceted campaign launched last March, the California Tobacco Control Program, part of the state’s Public Health Department, targeted the surging use of e-cigarettes, especially among young adults, and their potential threats to health.
For its work in conceiving and implementing the campaign, San Francisco advertising and marketing agency Duncan/Channon won Best in Show recognition at the 2015 Healthcare Marketing IMPACT Awards.
“Our charge with this campaign was telling the story of this rapidly emerging, unregulated product category,” said Andy Berkenfield, the agency’s CEO. “Not just advertising messages, which are limited in their nature, but also to offer a place where the public can find the most up-to-date information on the effects of e-cigarettes.”
That space is a website— StillBlowingSmoke.org — that serves as a repository of educational resources to complement the ad messages.
The campaign uses TV, video and digital presentations and outdoor displays such as traditional billboards. It also deployed innovative tools such as large interactive screens at bus shelters and displays atop gas station pumps. They prominently placed asterisks in many of the creative pieces to hammer home the notion that there’s an additional layer to the message.
“While we wanted a bold, recognizable symbol in the design, we also wanted the presentation to telegraph that there’s more to the story,” Berkenfield said. “There’s more than what the headlines are telling us about vaping and e-cigarettes.”
Because of the complex and often polarizing nature of the debate over e-cigarettes, developing the campaign presented many challenges, said Robert Duncan, the agency’s founder and president. “With healthcare there’s a whole different level of scrutiny, especially legal. Every word of the copy for the campaign went through 127 different legal reviews,” Duncan said. “Just think about that— you’re trying to come up with something cool and fun and attention-getting for young people that also passes muster with large legal staffs. What a circus trick that can be.”
Duncan/Channon bested more than 75 agencies to land the campaign contract, Berkenfield said.
“Like so many things, it often comes down to the intangibles. I’m sure other agencies had great ideas and showed a lot of creativity. There’s a lot of parity in the industry,” he said, “but I think at the heart of every win is the emotional connection, that I trust this team to solve my problems.”
The StillBlowingSmoke.org website (images at top right and at right) offers educational resources that supplement the messages delivered via TV, video and outdoor advertising.