New anti-smoking advertisements look like nothing consumers have seen before.
The ads display plain black text on a plain white background. There are no images of any kind. A monotone, seemingly robotic voice reads the text, with no vocal inflection and no music in the background.
If it seems like the advertisements violate every rule of Advertising 101, that’s intentional.
“They don’t want these things to be attention-grabbing,” said Lorraine Reitzel, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Psychological, Health and Learning Sciences at the University of Houston College of Education.
The ads are the result of legal negotiations that date back to court rulings from 2006 that have finally been resolved. Experts say every aspect of these ads—from content to font sizes—was litigated. The result: a series of nondescripts advertisements that, in some ways, may stand out because they’re so plain.
In the court-ordered advertisements, which are airing on broadcast television and in print in major newspapers, cigarette-makers offer “corrective statements,” acknowledging that smoking kills, nicotine is addictive, and the cigarette makers designed cigarettes to make them more addictive. They also acknowledge the dangers of secondhand smoke.
The tobacco companies aren’t taking a modern approach to outreach, and experts say that’s also by design. The messages air in prime time slots on broadcast television networks and in print newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post. Those are not considered optimal ways of targeting young people.
“The ads have no appeal,” said Jennifer Cofer, MPH, director of the EndTobacco Program at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “They’re not going to spark any interest in youth.”
Reitzel pointed to another major shortcoming of the ads: Conspicuously absent from them is any mention of how smokers can find resources to help them quit.
Despite their shortcomings, though, the ads are a “huge public health win,” Cofer said.
“This is what we wanted to see—that they don’t deny their marketing tactics,” Cofer said. “They can no longer misrepresent themselves.”
If the production value of the commercials doesn’t stand out, their plainspoken frankness—of knowingly marketing deadly, addictive products—might.
“These are messages that, thanks to the public health community, have been communicated for a long time,” said Ernest Hawk, M.D., MPH, vice president and division head for cancer prevention and population sciences at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “The new part is who is sending the message. It’s the same message, from a difference source.”
The advertisements come at a convenient time for cigarette-makers, Reitzel said. Smoking rates are declining quickly, so cigarette companies are already designing new ways of delivering tobacco and nicotine to consumers. The companies are admitting to their misdeeds about cigarettes at a time when cigarettes represent a shrinking portion of their portfolio.
Still, it’s significant that tobacco companies can no longer deny the addictive nature of nicotine or the dangers of secondhand smoke, Cofer said. Because the court-ordered advertising is so dry, the public health and advocacy communities will likely use the cigarette makers’ words in their own messaging, she said.
But there’s something to be said for the unusually austere advertisements.
“It may be that they’re so odd—so unlike any other marketing—that perhaps they might get attention,” Hawk said.
RT @microbeMinded: Interested becoming #GraduateStudents in molecular #microbiome, #virology, #microbiology or #immunology? Still time to…
Baylor College of MedicineBaylorCollegeOfMedicine
Dr. Krista Olson with Baylor College of Medicine Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery talks about the unique opportunity to work with a range of pat...
An expert from the @TAMU_SPH talks about how it takes a whole community to respond to a natural disaster… https://t.co/ROVyLy2KEs
Dr. Krista Olson with @BCM_Oto talks about the unique opportunity to work with a range of patients through cancer,… https://t.co/bzXfqwnHKu
RT @BCMHouston_News: More patients are using online portals to receive and access test results, but how well do they understand the impact…
RT @TAMUmedicine: Alarming #Texas #maternal mortality rate: how we're failing to prevent #pregnant women & new #moms from dying - and what…
ICYMI: This @USArmy #VeteranOfTheDay is a member of the Comanche Nation and served during WWI https://t.co/0DDbBlrHJa via #VAntagePoint
We know what we're doing this afternoon! https://t.co/2pQGZxwQlH
RT @HeartCPR: Young diabetics could have seven times higher risk for sudden cardiac death https://t.co/lCQln1j7MI
Freaking out about finals? Drop in for an informal confidential consultation with @uh_caps through Thursday.… https://t.co/DEv7OnSlfO
MD Anderson Cancer Center@MDAndersonNews
A daughter’s advice for appreciating life with #cancer: https://t.co/LKYZmwbeKz #kcsm #endcancer https://t.co/YHz9hWIjLc
@TAMUmedicine student leads emergency medicine study to get diagnostic momentum in the right direction #AggieDocs… https://t.co/1bgcAOybyp
As part of Computer Science Education Week, the Rice University School Mathematics Project collaborated with Houston Independent School District for an Hour of ...
The Rice University School Mathematics Project collaborates with @HoustonISD for an Hour of Code.… https://t.co/1ad8DeUuWe
RT @NNDC: Reading...@UTHealth @McGovernMed Researchers Link Epigenetic Aging to #BipolarDisorder https://t.co/9bSAkqOjQD @nature Translati…