Thursday, November 30, 2006

smoking is a marketing problem

I'll say this once and then I'll shut up. Smoking is as much a marketing problem as it is a public health problem. Therefore, the people coordinating anti-smoking campaigns should be marketing professionals, not Public Health officials.
According to a recent New York Times' editorial, a research published in the American Journal of Public Health shows that "exposure to tobacco company youth-targeted smoking prevention advertising generally had no beneficial outcomes for youths". Well, this shouldn't be a total surprise, since this is more of a PR move by the industry, trying to prevent further backlash from the society.
But I see other anti-smoking campaigns and I can't help getting the feeling that this is an incredibly one-sided battle. While one side has mastered how to pull all the culturally relevant strings directed at the youth (to start with, think Bogart and Bacall, James Dean, Brando) and keeps pushing the coolness envelope with persuasive, cutting edge marketing messages (branded content, sports sponsorships, and many other activities), the other side insists in promoting the health problems caused by smoking (often using gruesome images attached to the packaging).
I don't have any data on my hand, so I may be wrong, but I think this approach is highly ineffective. It only reaches smokers who already want to quit, and it doesn't really prevent youngsters from falling to the temptation of trying smoking just a couple of times. By the time they're hooked, it's too late.
If Public Health officials are serious about fighting the tobacco industry then they should hire marketing people with deep knowledge of human motivation, meaning management, consumption rituals, and myth creation, to manage their anti-smoking campaings. And if they are really serious, they should rally other countries' governments to join them in a global, cooperative, communication effort (after all, aren't the "enemies" global as well?).
But it'll never happen, so I'll just shut up.

Editorial. When Don't Smoke Means Do. The New York Times. November 27, 2006. (here)


DDT said...

I think the best anti-tobacco campaign I ever saw was "Truth", by CP+B in the late 90's.

You just made me realize that this was due to a "marketing" approach. The idea was: we are not against tobacco (if you want to smoke, it is up to you), but we can't stand the tobacco industry lies.

They have some amazing ideas, like real life ads with young people asking Phillip Morris where was the Marlboro cowboy. And a lot of other smart stuff.

I don't have any of their results (if I find it, I'll share), but I remeber they were really relevant -- although, they were not enough, yet.

Um abraço do Brasil,


Nelson said...

Hey DDT, good to hear from you. Thanks for the comment. I don't know this campaign you mention, but what you said raises another angle for this debate. Consistency. Marlboro had the cowboy campaign for how long, 40-50 years? Do you know any anti-tobacco campaign that lasted that long, on a global basis?
I guess the key aspect here is to recognize that, for an adolescent, a pack of cigarettes is really a (relatively) cheap and portable token to show his/her adulthood, it's a rite of passage motivation more than anything else. You start from there, and then start to make questions: Can we change that meaning? How do we do that? I recognize it's not an easy task, but you have to start somewhere. It's got to be very smart and consistent (for decades). Abraço, Nelson.