Sunday, March 14, 2010

"The Truth" Campaign: Extinguishing Smoking via Social Media

Smoking. Stars like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe made it cool. Now, "The Truth” campaign is crusading to unwind the sexy stigmatism attached with the cancer causing habit. How can a campaign effectively discourage the use of cigarettes—something in which 21% of people in America daily take part? By using social media.

Facebook, Myspace, Bebo, and Youtube: These are a few of the sites that host Truth Orange, the 58.9 million dollar anti-cigarette campaign to extinguish smoking. You’ve certainly seen the quirky, interesting TV shorts that question “Big Tobacco” companies, share disturbing facts about birth defects in babies whose mother’s smoke, and pile body bags on the streets of New York City to represent the number of folks who die from smoking-related deaths each day.

In 2006, “The Truth” ads expanded from documentary-style TV commercials to include social media, using the slang term and web address ‘whudafxup.’ Another recent campaign for “The Truth” features “The Sunny Side of Truth Remix Project,” which brings together music artists like Diplo, Mix Master Mike, Z-trip, Pete Rock, and DJ Sega to remix songs from the Sunny Side of Truth. The songs can be downloaded on the campaign’s webpage, along with wallpapers, posters, and buddy icons.

“The Truth” is using music—sharing and shows—to help spread their anti-smoking message. In 2009, “The Truth” hooked up with the music site Imeem and offered tickets to a free show, entered readers in a contest to interview bands or win a free Flip phone, and streamed the concert live. The page also let fans create and share “The Truth” playlists, videos, and messages.

All 1,000 concert tickets were delivered via text message to fans who called to RSVP, and during the concert texts were displayed on a jumbotron via the text-to-screen tool provided by Mozes, a mobile marketing platform.

The mainstay (and most interesting component) of “The Truth” campaign is still the documentary style video shorts. Their latest angle, “Do you have what it takes to be a tobacco executive?” has racked up dozens of minute-long clips that are plastered over Myspace, YouTube, and the campaign’s homepage. With upwards of 30,000 views, the Youtube channel dedicated to Truth Orange features ads for apparel, music, “Truth on Tour,” and “Do you have what it takes…” segments.

While friends on Facebook share photos of family member’s smoking-related diseases, the ad’s homepage lets viewers get involved through games like Addictor Click, Urea Collector (“Urea is found in tobacco. It’s also found in cat pee—yum”), and Truth Pet (“the more friends you get, the bigger your stache grows”).

With 45,885 friends on Myspace and 4,177 fans on Facebook, there’s no question that audiences are being reached and “The Truth” voice is being heard. But through all of this social media, how effective is their campaign?

In a Fox News article called “’Truth’ Ads Help Cut Youth Smoking,” Joseph A. Califano Jr., President Carter’s health secretary and chairman of Citizens’ Commission to Protect the Truth, said, “These truth campaign ads are the MTV of the public health world. They really get to these kids.” offers a few compelling statistics:

• Seventy-five percent of all 12 to 17 year-olds in the nation (21 million) can accurately describe one or more of the truth® ads.
• Nearly 90 percent of youths aged 12 to 17 (25 million) said the ad they saw was convincing.
• Eighty-five percent (24 million) said the ad gave them good reasons not to smoke.

The verdict? “The Truth” is plastered across the web, utilizing social media to effectively spread its message and reach its target audience of teens. These stats make me wonder, what other messages should we be pumping through the same methods of media?


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  2. I don't watch much television, so I had not previously seen either of these video clips. They both deliver such a powerful message, a message that I hope young people hear.

    Throughout most of my life, the large tobacco companies have gone to great lengths to make smoking seem cool (Joe Camel), sexy (Virginia Slims campaign), or tough (the Marlboro Man). It is refreshing to see some real information being disseminated about the addictive nature of and the harms associated with smoking and other uses of tobacco(it was the Marlboro Man who lured me in, and he kept his lasso around me for thirty years).

    Ironically, the tobacco companies now seem to be trying to out-concern their concerned opponents. Take a look at the new, concerned website at Philip Morris USA.

    As noted on the site, "This is the corporate website of Philip Morris USA. It does not sell, advertise or offer promotions for our products." They've come a long way, baby. Besides, they've got over a billion potential customers in China.

  3. I think it was a smart move on Truth's part to build their momentum via social media since it is free and something they can continue even if funds dwindle, as the Fox news article asserts. On the point of similar messages that need to be rolled out to teens, I think all the usual topics (abstinence, safe-sex, anti drug and alcohol spots, stay in school, etc) will make for good web campaigns.

  4. This was well-done and you picked a really great organization to analyze. While reading it I had a couple thoughts:

    1. The reason this organization is so successful is that they are incredibly smart in the marketing materials they produce. Two, in particular, stand out to me. It's been years since I had seen either one of these campaigns but they are as smart and relevant now as they were when they first came out.

    The first was for Shards O' Glass Freeze Pops. It was a essentially a comprehensive ad campaign for an imaginary frozen dessert product with giant pieces of glass in them. I believe the video commercial was first aired during the Super Bowl. The Web site is long gone, but I remember it being fun and colorful – something that would completely be inviting to kids.

    The other – and in my opinion one of the most brilliant pieces of video ever put together for a no-smoking campaign – was for a pretend sitcom called “Fair Enough.” The 1-minute episodes were based on real documents from Big Tobacco companies. The videos had an 80s-style theme song and laugh track. It was extraordinarily well done:

    2. In trying to find the “Fair Enough” video on YouTube I had another thought that was more related to Social Media today and it was this: we are pretty freakin' lucky to live in an era where just about anything that has been produced for the television medium (and to some extent audio) is available to us at a moment's notice. Sometimes I forget how spoiled we are...

    I always have an example and I'm about to drop another social media science bomb:

    In 1991, I was dating a girl named Tina. I loved Tina. On our first date, I happened to be flipping around the ol' radio dial and landed on the oldies station. A song called “Sweet Soul Music” by Arthur Conley came on. We sang. We shared one of those goofy 17-year old moments and suddenly, it became one of “our songs.”

    For Tina's birthday, I was going to make her a mix tape of all our favorite songs. (Seriously). I needed a copy of “Sweet Soul Music.” I couldn't find the thing on CD; I couldn't find it on cassette. I tried all the music stores – Turtle's, Record dice. So I had another thought. I will sit by the radio listening to Fox 97 and wait for them to play it. When they do, I'll record on cassette.

    Chris waited.

    And waited.

    And waited.

    I even called the radio station. I think they hung up on me.

    We had a substitute teacher at my high school who doubled as a wedding DJ. He caught wind of my pathetic story and got me a copy of the song. Tina was so elated she decided not to break my heart for another six months!

    The point – I could jump on YouTube, find the song, open up another browser window to, copy the YouTube URL and in a couple seconds I got it. Thank goodness for the year 2010 and all the awesome stuff we have available at our disposal.

    (Note – in no way does the author of this post endorse the illegal acquisition or distribution of music embedded in Flash video files).

    I'll end with this: I think a lot of people believe that participating in social media requires writing blogs or posting status updates on Facebook. I would contend that by doing something as innocuous as reading a post or watching a video, that even indirectly, those actions are engaging the participant into the insanely voluminous world of social media.

    And don't smoke cigarettes; they'll kill you.

  5. "I think a lot of people believe that participating in social media requires writing blogs or posting status updates on Facebook. I would contend that by doing something as innocuous as reading a post or watching a video, that even indirectly, those actions are engaging the participant into the insanely voluminous world of social media."

    I think that this is an excellent point about the very definition of social media. Social media is not just about YouTube and Facebook. I caught myself trying to explain social media to a friend who asked me about this course. I began my explanation that social media is the interaction between users, it is the contribution by users, and it is the community of users. My friend looked stupefied and said "isn't that the entire internet?" Though his definition is too broad, perhaps mine is too narrow. I think that the interaction between publishers on the web certainly constitutes social media and that by even entering this post, I am participating.

  6. "The Truth" campaign is another case in which I wonder about the effectiveness of social media. It's doing a great job of incorporating individuals into the effort through Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, and YouTube, but I've been wondering where "The Truth" went. I think it went with my television. And that's been gone for a long time.

    I grew up with "The Truth" campaigns and I remember watching them all through high school. But when I no longer had a tv, having migrated to the internet for entertainment, I stopped seeing their ads.

    Part of social media requires interested audiences seeking out the profiles. And that's okay. It's how it is supposed to be. But sometimes, the companies still have to come to us.

    I think "The Truth" had a great idea in branching out in music sharing and getting artists involved. Also since their Youtube videos are so popular, I'd highly recommend they take a look at and similar providers.

    So many college-age students rely on Hulu, Netflix, etc. for their television or movie streaming services and bypass cable or local television stations. Hosting some of the top Truth videos on Hulu, or included them as short commercials would reach out to that migrating audience.