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NY Anti-Smoke Ad From Australia Lights Up Controversy

Posted by: David Kiley on April 10, 2009

There is a firestorm over an anti-smoking ad that has run in the New York market. Some say the ad goes too far, even calling it “emotional terrorism.” Give me a break.

The ad was actually created in Australia and ran there for an anti-smoking campaign. It is running in the Big Apple as part of the city’s “NY Quits” campaign.

Anti-smoking ads have long been some of the most powerful ads created anywhere. And this is no exception. Why? Because the client is always hoping for shock value and to chill the viewer to the bone. They are trying to get under our skin, and not only move smokers to stop smoking, but to get family members to intervene.

Here is one of the objectors, Maria E. Andreu of who apparently writes a parenting advice column, dishing out advice and commentary on why this is a bad ad.

“The question is this: why do we have compassion for people afflicted with all kinds of addictions, but have no problem with mercilessly guilting smokers with increasingly disgusting and cruel ads? Yes, smoking is a terrible habit that can ruin people’s health. But how effective are coercive ads in getting them to quit? They make us, the non-smokers, cluck our tongues in judgment and feel morally superior. “How could parents smoke and ignore the possible impact of their early death on their children?” we ask ourselves. But the truth is, they don’t ignore it. They live with the guilt every day. And the last thing we need is to use the airwaves to make them feel worse about it.”

Yeah. Whatever. Yikes.

The ad industry would be a healthier place if there were more clients for everyday products and brands who took a similarly fearless approach to engaging consumers with messages that matter.

The ad has people talking and blogging. If that isn’t the point of an anti-smoking ad, I don’t know what is.

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Reader Comments


April 13, 2009 03:45 PM

My problem with tobacco is the fact that they target youth and attract smokers at a young age when they are incapable of making a rational decision then proceed to increase the nicotine each year resulting in more addictive products that are harder and harder to give up. Pair this with the cancer causing chemicals that big tobacco [knowingly] adds to cigarettes and you have a major problem.
I think that instead of directly addressing the consumer, I think we should educate consumers on what tobacco companies are doing to them.
The ad in question is a good, effective ad. As you said, we are talking about it and that is the point of most advertising. And yes, sometimes guilt is necessary. It is the strongest and most powerful emotion we can use regarding anti-smoking. It has the highest level of effectiveness with women. Men do not respond to it as strongly. Statistically, it is shown that people will not quit for themselves, but will be convinced for those around them. This ad capitalizes on that fact.
The problem is, one person might feel guilty, where many others are simply uneducated. This ad serves to educate in a powerful way.


April 17, 2009 12:45 AM

There is nobody left who is uneducated. I personally find all of the anti-smoking television ads to be flatly annoying.

My case in point are the "truth" commercials, which usually feature a very unflattering quote from an unnamed "big tobbaco" executive, only to note that 95% of these quotes were put out in the 1960's and 70's.

Here's the best part: the funding for most of those ads come from the cigarette companies themselves. Why? Well, some is congressional mandate. But another aspect is the fact that it does in fact annoy the hell out of their target population (teenagers and young adults), who are frankly sick of everyone telling them what to do.

Emotional terrorism? I think that is strong wording. Everybody knows that cigarettes are bad for your health (see: Thank You for Smoking). But I personally do believe in freedom of choice, and while I am a non-smoker and personally believe that anybody who does pick up the habit is stupid for doing so and my opinion of them reflects as such, it will be a cold day in hell before I try to take away their right to make a bad choice.

Yes, it hurts their friends and families. But so does ~90% of other habits people pick up. If it isn't cigs, it will be something else.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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