Campaigns for tobacco control have used design as an effective medium in delivering confronting messages about the effects tobacco can have on your health as well as others. But to what extent do these design initiatives have to go to in order to bring awareness? The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) responded by implementing “extensive tobacco regulatory strategies, including the enactment of comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship activities. Such bans have been shown to be effective in reducing tobacco consumption, both in developed countries and in developing countries” (Kasza, K. et al 2011) It seems that being passive about this problem isn’t how some design agencies decide to solve the problem; which in turn leads to very provoking designs.
Let’s take a look at one of the most famous shock advertising anti-smoking campaigns; the 2007 ‘Get Unhooked’ designed by the advertising agency Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy in London. Funded by the UK Department of Health, this ad was a series of confronting images and videos of people with fishhooks in their mouths in which a clear comparison is drawn with the addictive nature of tobacco and encouraging smokers to quit. The controversial nature of this design initiative was hugely successful; becoming “one of the most famous advertising campaigns during the entire year, attracting a whopping 90% awareness among smokers and the highest ever volume of response from any anti-smoking campaign previously run by the Department of Health.” (Haynes 2012) despite it being recalled due to the 774 complaints it received with its shocking and graphic nature. This “five-week campaign sparked hundreds of complaints from people who found the images offensive, frightening and distressing, particularly to children.” (BBC News) yet the Department of Health argues against the Advertising Standards Authority in believing that the campaign helped to deliver a clear message to smokers.
According to BBC News, the Department of Health said an “anti-smoking helpline and website had been contacted more than 820,000 times during the Get Unhooked campaign” and added “that he believed the adverts had achieved the right balance between raising awareness of the dangers of smoking and its addictive nature, with the need to do so responsibly and in line with industry codes.” (BBC News) The transdisciplinary creation of this campaign that was developed “with health professionals…had not meant to cause distress”. (BBC News) yet its success supports the idea that “Antismoking messages that produce strong emotional arousal, particularly personal stories or graphic portrayals of the health effects of smoking, tend to perform well; they are perceived to be more effective than others, are more memorable, and generate more thought and discussion.” (Durkin J.S et al 2009).
Likewise, Laura Wallis in her article ‘Scared Smokeless: Graphic Antismoking Ads Increase Quitting Attempts’ claims that “According to one new study, ads that evoke strongly negative emotions like fear or sadness, or highly graphic images of diseased lungs and other smoking-related illness, are more effective than other types of ads in getting people to try to quit.” This is reinforced by the New York Adult Tobacco Survey which analysed 8,780 current smokers over the age of 18 (2003-2010) and found that “greater exposure to highly emotional or graphic ads to be positively associated with quitting attempts in the previous 12 months, whereas exposure to ads that focused on advice on quitting, offered encouragement to quit, or highlighted the dangers of secondhand smoke had no such association.” (Wallis 2013) Indeed, “some experts have criticized fear-based anti-smoking campaigns, saying they go too far or that their short-term benefits fade once their audiences become inured to the images, but the evidence in this study makes a strong counterargument that such ads do in fact work.” (Wallis 2013)
Ultimately, it seems that these type of ‘in your face’ design initiatives are able to grab people’s attention despite its gruesome nature, as the ‘Get Unhooked’ campaign’s “phenomenal success amongst its target audience…went on to win Marketing Week’s Best Campaign of the Year award in 2008.” (Haynes 2012) So who’s had the last laugh now?
BBC News. 2007. Hooked Smoking Ads ‘broke rules’, UK, viewed 14 December 2017, <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6658335.stm>
Durkin, S.J., Biener, L & Wakefield, A. M. ‘Effects of Different Types of Antismoking Ads on Reducing Disparities in Smoking Cessation Among Socioeconomic Subgroups.’ American Journal of Public Health, vol 99, no. 12, pp. 2217-2223.
Georghiou, N. 2007, Get Unhooked, adeevee, viewed 14 December 2017, <http://www.adeevee.com/2007/01/the-department-of-health-anti-smoking-message-right-hooked-woman-left-hooked-print/>
Haynes, R. 2012. Design Insight: The most shocking anti-smoking posters ever made!, solopressblog, weblog, viewed 14 December 2017, <https://www.solopress.com/blog/print-inspiration/design-insight-the-most-shocking-anti-smoking-posters-ever-made/>
Jaramillo, R. 2007, get unhooked, video recording, YouTube, viewed 14 December 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMRFIU_sADI>
Kasza, K. A., Hyland, A. J., Brown, A., Siahpush, M., Yong, H.-H., McNeill, A. D., Cummings, K. M. “The Effectiveness of Tobacco Marketing Regulations on Reducing Smokers’ Exposure to Advertising and Promotion: Findings from the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Four Country Survey.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol 8, no. 2, pp. 321-340.
TheAdMonkey. 2007, NHS anti smoking – hooked, video recording, YouTube, viewed 14 December 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anFK9SA5kKw>
Wallis, L. “Scared Smokeless: Graphic Antismoking Ads Increase Quitting Attempts”, The American Journal of Nursing, vol. 113, no. 2, pp. 16.