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.
This World TB Day, learn how our researchers are helping to tackle tuberculosis here in the US, but also worldwide. https://t.co/PhtmvVvKBl #WorldTBDay
Baylor College of MedicineBaylorCollegeOfMedicine
A new study by researchers in the Baylor College of Medicine Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy and other institutions examines the parental leave, childcare, and breastfeeding policies at the top 25 schools of public health around the country. #publichealth
MD Anderson Cancer CenterMDAnderson
Immunotherapy, which trains the immune system to attack cancer, has produced remarkable results in treating some cancers. But it doesn’t work for everyone, and its results can vary.That’s why our researchers are conducting clinical trials that combine immunotherapy with standard chemotherapies, antibody-based treatments and even other immunotherapy drugs. Here’s how our experts are using these combination treatments for leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. #endcancer
Weslaco school’s support for Veterans earns Purple Heart distinction https://t.co/E3FV9Wl8On via @monitornews
MD Anderson Cancer Center@MDAndersonNews
.@McNeill_Dr: "We want everyone to have the same low chances of getting cancer and the same good outcomes.” https://t.co/NJeukvh6nf #healthdisparities #endcancer
RT @UHCougarMBK: JOIN our WATCH PARTY with @KHOU in Houston at @AvenidaHouston TONIGHT#ForTheCity #GoCoogs https://t.co/7Vi3TdexRm
RT @UHCougarMBK: TUNE IN to TONIGHT's @marchmadness 7:40 pm 🏀 game vs Ohio State📺 – TNT LINK – https://t.co/6RnYs6Cw7e 🎙️ – @brad_nessler…
RT @UHpres: Flaunt your red and show your pride...Cougars do it for each other, for their coach and for the city! https://t.co/wAAqK4iKC0
Intelligent Waves Awarded $2.9M Contract by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs https://t.co/19ycMIPcni via @BusinessWire
RT @CATCHhealth: Warmer weather is the perfect excuse to start grilling those GO foods! @UTHealth has got you covered with some tips and tr…
Can't connect with you thru facebook messenger but really need someone to reach out to me.
#OperationSong – “Flowers on a Stone” by Brittany Lawrence https://t.co/hnhP47gWsr via #VAntagePoint
U.S. Department of Veterans AffairsVeteransAffairs
Gold Star Wife, Brittany Lawrence wrote the song, "Flowers on a Stone," in collaboration with Operation Song professional songwriters. Her song is about the loss of her husband, Joshua Lawrence, who died while deployed to Afghanistan. We honor his service and thank Brittany for sharing her song and her story with us. http://bit.ly/2Ym3MHd
MD Anderson Cancer Center@MDAndersonNews
Survivor JMichael Shipman shares his story of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro after overcoming #testicularcancer: https://t.co/gAJGvBwMcG #tscsm #endcancer https://t.co/89xtf0IWCB
A new study by researchers in @BCMEthics and other institutions examines the parental leave, childcare, and breastfeeding policies at the top 25 schools of public health around the country. https://t.co/FP3lUxEBSj #publichealth