We helped create an untraditional anti-smoking campaign aimed at adolescents. Instead of using facts and sensible arguments, we met the young people at eye level and used humour to make the reasons for smoking look silly.
WHY SMOKE, REALLY?
The Danish Health Authority wanted to prevent 14-19-year olds from starting to smoke. But adolescents don't bother hearing what the adults say. They know that smoking is unhealthy.
Through a multi-year campaign, we have let adolescents reveal their real reasons for smoking: They smoke to be popular – but trying to be cool isn’t cool.
The figures show that we influenced almost half of the adolescents who don't smoke or only smoke at parties in a more positive direction. We have done so by either changing their behaviour here and now or by affecting their thoughts and feelings in a way that will make them say no to cigarettes the next time they take a break or are at a party.
One in five young Danes between the ages of 14 and 19 smokes, and although there has been a general decrease in the number of smokers from 2013-2017, the number of adolescents starting to smoke has increased in that same period. Projecting these numbers means that almost 1 in 10 of today's children and adolescents will eventually die from smoking-related diseases.
The problem is that young people who start smoking are not interested in hearing what adults have to say. Most adolescents know smoking is unhealthy, expensive, and a bit stupid. But the long-term health consequences are far too abstract for them. They are in a transition phase where they look up to slightly older peers, want to appear mature and free, and experiment with different 'adult markers', such as cigarettes. The fact that it is dangerous and that adults warn against smoking can actually be a reason to start.
For that reason, anti-smoking advertisements rarely succeed in influencing young people to reduce consumption. In the worst case, they actually worked against the intention.
We dropped the pointed fingers and sensible arguments against smoking and created a campaign that made young people look at themselves. Instead of talking about why you shouldn't smoke, can we talk about why you should?
The strategy was to expose the real reasons for smoking and make them appear lame. Because being revealed in trying to be cool isn’t cool at all.
We have produced several short films in an ironic tone, which let the target audience formulate and decode the messages themselves. In addition, we created the "But Why" logo instead of using the Danish Health Authority logo so that the young people themselves are the ones who own the conversation about smoking. The media channels were selected so that we reached adolescents where they already were – and, as far as possible, didn’t reach adults.
In the first year, we focused on revealing the motives behind smoking by setting the scene in typical smoking arenas such as parties and school breaks.
In the second year, we got closer to the purchase situation and became more direct in our revelations of what adolescents imagine smoking can do for them.
During the first two years, the campaign became wildly popular and built a regular fan base of young people who demanded more content. Therefore, we assessed that we could involve the target group more directly in the campaign. In year three, we developed "Ciggy" – a character they knew from the universe who acted as an influencer with his own channel. We followed him around schools where he met his fans and talked with other influencers.
We also made a website for parents where they get advice on how to talk to their child or teenager about smoking.