This anti-smoking effort ain’t rotten

It ain't easy telling kids what (not) to do. But a recent effort by the Northwest Territories (NWT) government to curb the province's smoking levels has successfully targeted eight- to 14-year-olds.

It ain’t easy telling kids what (not) to do. But a recent effort by the Northwest Territories (NWT) government to curb the province’s smoking levels has successfully targeted eight- to 14-year-olds.

The campaign, by Tait Communications in Yellowknife, launched in spring 2004 and wrapped this past June. It drove kids to sign anti-smoking commitment cards. After a year, 2,243 NWT kids had done so – well beyond the target of 500 – and had their names published in newspaper ads as a result.

Grassroots initiatives included teacher’s kits, which came with a 6-ft. inflatable Butthead (the campaign mascot) punching bag. The kit was used in at least one class in 81% of the province’s schools with Grades 3-9. Interactive displays, erected at events, used magnets to highlight the more gruesome effects of smoking. And, one of the eight PSAs featured a longtime smoker who requires a breathing apparatus at night.

We asked Steve Williams, CD at Calgary-based Venture Communications, and Hugues Choquette, CD at Montreal’s Tam-TamTBWA, to cough up their thoughts.


SW: Kids love stuff like [Butthead.] If they’ll eat barf-flavored jelly beans just because they were in Harry Potter, they won’t be deterred by a cartoon cig named Butthead. I think the logo is the weakest part of the campaign.

HC: Using a character is appealing to the target as it tones down the moral effect and ties the campaign together by keeping a clear link from one piece to another.

Interactive display

SW: Pretty clever. Kids aren’t jaded by this type of imagery yet. Show an adult a black, pus-oozing lung and he won’t even put down his bag of Cheezies.

HC: You never know what might convince your audience. The display is one of those very things. Interactivity is key in a campaign involving a personal decision like whether or not to quit smoking.

Web site

SW: The site was simple, easy to navigate, and the photo of the lip cancer almost made me vomit. Couldn’t ask for more. There was also an interesting real-time graphic that showed how often someone was dying from tobacco use.


SW: The PSA with the woman who has to strap on a facemask just to sleep was very powerful. It’s like showing a kid they’re going to turn into Darth Vader – part machine for the rest of their life.

HC: Not the most creative concept, since testimonials are one of the most overused forms of advertising.


SW: The idea is terrific. A kid would love to see her name in the paper. I think she’d likely cut it out and put it on her wall, so it would be a constant reminder.

HC: Eliciting an emotional reaction to your ad is already a major challenge. Making them write down a commitment would be a dream! The young target audience tends to be highly influenced by friends, so it was a terrific idea to show their names in the newspaper, especially in a territory unaccustomed to having campaigns made specifically for them.

The creds:

Client – Government of the Northwest Territories Department of Health and Social Services: Miriam Wideman, health promotion consultant

Agency – Tait Communications and Consulting: Leanne Tait, project manager; Kathy Fibish-Mercure and Claudia Richea, both marketing and communications specialists; Marsha Walker, administrative support

Production – Inkit: Rob Butler, art director; Dawna Marriott, production manager