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Creepy new anti-smoking ad isn’t helping

Creepy new anti-smoking ad isn’t helping

If there’s one thing that constantly bugs me in social marketing, it’s false equivalence. That is when a PSA campaign compares its issue to another, more shocking, issue to benefit from both borrowed interest and surprise.

The latest example is this ad from us v them, a London-based, anti-smoking think tank:

If there's one thing that constantly bugs me in social marketing, it's false equivalence. Click To Tweet

“So what’s the problem, Tom?” I’m sure someone will ask.

My personal problem with this is that while it gets attention for an important societal ill (teens succumbing to tobacco addiction) it does so by compromising another, even more horrifying, danger: sexual predators.

The thing with behaviour change marketing is that shock is something people build up a tolerance to, over time. It is my opinion that this ad uses up some of the potential for real anti-predator messages to break through by redirecting precious online attention to an unrelated issue. It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

It’s not even an original approach:

French ads depict teen smoking as being orally raped by a male tobacco executive.


The message of these horrifying French ads, from 2010, according to one critic “trivializes sexual abuse—worse, it implies guilt on the part of the abused.”

Let’s do better than that, OK?

I am Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. Read more