If you have ever watched TV in the US - or walked down the street in an American city - chances are you're familiar with the truth® campaign, the American Legacy Foundation's massive youth anti-smoking effort. Launched in 2000, the campaign is funded through settlement monies provided by big tobacco companies as part of the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), which they signed with the states in 1998. The campaign includes TV spots, print media, and a large, multifaceted website with online games, polls, quizzes, and downloads, as well as a blog "written" by the animated characters featured in the campaign's current phase. Truth® has also recently begun promoting re-broadcasts of episodes of MTV's long-running reality show The Real World that include these animated characters (fairies, unicorns, leprechauns, and a typewriter!) poking fun at the show's actors through speech-bubble commentary - with, of course, the occasional anti-smoking jab. The campaign is "designed to engage teens by exposing Big Tobacco's marketing and manufacturing practices, as well as highlighting the toll of tobacco in relevant and innovative ways" (www.thetruth.com). The campaign focuses heavily on changing social norms around smoking - taking the idea of smoking as youthful rebellion and turning it on its head by exposing the marketing approaches used by tobacco companies to target young people. Truth® doesn't include any calls to action - a nod to the idea that young people "can put it together" and may be less inclined to change their behavior if they're told to do so - and is known for framing its messages in a tongue-in-cheek, humorous way. The current phase of the campaign, "The Sunny Side of Truth" plays on traditional fear-based messages - which are generally not terribly effective with young people - reframing them in "sunnier" terms.
But does it work, or is it just a flash in the behavioral pan? According to www.protectthetruth.org:
- 75% of all 12 to 17 year-olds in the nation - 21 million - can accurately describe one or more of the truth® ads.
- Nearly 90% of youth aged 12 to 17 - 25 million said the ad they saw was convincing.
- 85% percent - 24 million - said the ad gave them good reasons not to smoke.
"Monitoring the Future, one of the nation's most comprehensive substance abuse surveys, reported dramatic declines in smoking rates among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, citing truth® as a factor in this public health success story" (www.protectthetruth.org).
To learn more about the campaign and check out sample spots, check out the truth® campaign website at: http://www.thetruth.com/.