With the Tobacco Industry's own, secret, internal marketing documents obtained as evidence, the state of Florida won a legal settlement for $11.2 Billion. This was to compensate them for healthcare costs of ailing and dying tobacco users. At that point, one in three Florida teens was a regular, daily smoker. The state allocated money from the settlement to create a campaign to help curb teen smoking, which had been steadily increasing for twenty straight years.
We took the challenge head on and dove into teen culture. "Why would they want to smoke?" we wondered. To rebel. To display self authority. To look cool. These are all need-states in the normal stages of adolescent development. Then we thought, "What if we gave them new ways to do these things?"
Previous anti-tobacco efforts had always blamed the cigarettes. Messages all boiled down to, "They're bad for you." But we now had tobacco industry executives, in their own words, talking about how to get kids as young as 13 down the path to nicotine addiction. We couldn't invent a better authority icon for teens to want to rebel against: a bunch of middle aged white guys in suits making big bucks selling a product that eventually kills a third of its users. With an average age of 13-and-a-half for initial cigarette usage, and 89% of new smokers starting before age 18, teens were clearly the primary tobacco industry target.
We launched and, long story short, within two years we cut Florida's teen smoking in half. Then, when all of the remaining states took on the tobacco industry, too, we rolled Truth out nationwide, to enormous success. It's still recognized as the most effective public health marketing effort ever, worldwide. Truth was featured on 60 Minutes and in Newsweek magazine, as well as a sea of other press coverage, and has won tons of global awards over the years. But, to me, the greatest accolade is still the results handed to us by the outside group hired to measure the campaign's effectiveness in order to determine our agency's bonus payments. It still gives me chills to remember, every, single time: They gave us the numbers in future lives saved.
Here are a few of the ads along the journey. Enjoy: