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If you could see the damage, you’d stop

If you could see the damage, you’d stop


From the UK Department of Health comes the year’s first shock campaign. In it, a man sucks on his smoke as a cancerous tumour grows on it.


Copyranter writes, “The Department says they developed the shockvertising because their research shows that more than a third of smokers still believe that the health risks associated with smoking are ‘greatly exaggerated’.”

And that’s what gives me pause. The voiceover is actually quite straightforward and rational, quantifying the harm that each cigarette does. But then the shock visual makes the same mistake of “greatly exaggerating” the harm. It’s a concept, sure, and not to be taken literally. But I don’t think it will help the message be more effective.

Smokers know that their habit is harming their health, and many continue anyway. The reason the feel that the risks are exaggerated is precisely because anti-smoking campaigns use so much shock and gore to try to scare them straight. Smokers just learn to tune it out.

Everyone I have known who quit did so because they wanted to, not because someone else told them they should. I’d like to see more anti-smoking ads that speak to smokers with empathy towards their addiction. Smoking provides them pleasure and comfort. But the use of the drug can also take away everything they hold dear. This Brazilian campaign handled the balance quite well.

Department of Health (United Kingdom)
Dare, London

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