Where there’s smoke there’s Nancy Hoddinott

An affable Newfoundlander with a ready laugh, Nancy Hoddinott is an unlikely provocateur. But since the launch of the unorthodox 'Great Reasons to Smoke' campaign, which she championed as head of Nova Scotia's Office of Health Promotions a little over two years ago, the 37-year-old has managed to turn social marketing on its head and succeed in something that many have struggled to do: actually make kids listen. But as you would expect from a Newfoundlander, she's wholly modest about it.

An affable Newfoundlander with a ready laugh, Nancy Hoddinott is an unlikely provocateur. But since the launch of the unorthodox ‘Great Reasons to Smoke’ campaign, which she championed as head of Nova Scotia’s Office of Health Promotions a little over two years ago, the 37-year-old has managed to turn social marketing on its head and succeed in something that many have struggled to do: actually make kids listen. But as you would expect from a Newfoundlander, she’s wholly modest about it.

Consider however, that she signed on Dartmouth, N.S.-based agency Extreme Group, then trusted – and defended – its rather off-colour creative through Nova Scotia’s government approval process. That she wrangled $1.2 million worth of additional funding out of the federal government (initially a meager $200,000 from the provincial coffers was planned) after convincing the powers-that-be that a comprehensive, multimedia anti-smoking campaign was the only way to be effective. And that she somehow had celeb hosers extraordinaire Terry and Dean from the movie FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond all Recognition) okayed for the string of eight TV spots.

Fortunately Andrew Doyle, a partner at Extreme, is entirely immodest when singing Hoddinott’s praises: ‘[Nancy has] a passion for social marketing and a willingness to look for insights rather than foist a direction on an agency,’ he says. ‘She championed creative using the guys from the movie FUBAR… because it was the right thing to do and she knew it.

‘She’s smart and practical, allowing her agency to do the kind of things they should every day – build insight-driven solutions that actually reach people. It’s not every day you see a government official willing to do this kind of work.’

And it’s not every day that you see spots like this actually make it past government types.

Her tenacity has resulted in a campaign that not only garnered a place on the Cannes Lions International shortlist last year, 15 Bessie awards, and a gold at Halifax’s Ice Awards, but has young adults butting out in a province that only four years ago had the highest overall smoking rate in the country at 30%. It’s now down to 22%, according to a recent study by the Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey. (The national average is 21%.)

Hoddinott, who has worked in various departments within the Nova Scotia government since 1996 and at the Canadian Cancer Society for five years before that, says her drive comes in part from knowing the value of helping Canadians lead healthier lives. In fact, theories that one’s health is directly related to level of education and income are finally emerging from dusty theses to become central thinking in government programs and funding. ‘Things are beginning to turn around,’ she says. ‘But we’re just at the tip.’

In tackling young smokers, anti-smoking ads must use the same tactics tobacco companies used to lure them to light up in the first place, she says. That means smart, slick ads, not elementary fare. ‘The tobacco industry marketed forever and they were very good at what they did,’ she says. ‘So if we think that we can sit back on our heels and just come out with soft approaches about why one shouldn’t smoke, that’s not where the [tobacco] industry is. We’ve got to come out with something a little more edgy and risqué.’

And that’s largely why the ‘Great Reasons to Smoke’ campaign, with its overtly provocative name, seems to have struck a chord. Starting with print ads in January 2003, the campaign takes insights about why people smoke, then adds an unexpected twist.

Great Reason to Smoke #41, for example, features an over made-up, bang-teased twentysomething woman in a mug shot-type photograph. The caption: ‘Thanks to yellow teeth and finger tips, you can enjoy a night out without constantly being hit on.’

The TV spots, launched in January 2004 starring the FUBAR boys, are similarly

grungy. The campaign also includes

a Web site (www.sickofsmoke.com) and

public workshops.

In the next phase of the campaign, which starts this month, the medium will change

but not the message. A 75-second cinema

spot and print ads based on the same

theme will pop up in bars, universities and transit shelters.

In retrospect, what seems most ironic is that the ads weren’t exactly a hit when first tested in focus groups. ‘A lot of people didn’t like them,’ Hoddinott reveals. ‘The reaction wasn’t ‘We love these ads,’ which is a good thing because we weren’t looking for people

to say ‘Oh, look, that’s another nice

anti-tobacco ad.’ [Young people were saying] ‘That’s me; I’ve said those things. I’ve made those same comments.” Terrifically sly. And totally effective.