News & Views

Youth Marketing Summit 2017

by Contagious Contributor
YMS is the biggest youth marketing event in Europe. With over 1500 attendees, the event brings together thought leaders, top brands and innovative agencies. Sean Pillot de Chenecey, founder of consumer insights and brand development consultancy Captain Crikey, looks at why the anti-smoking campaign Truth, which he discussed at YMS, is a great example of a long-running, culturally relevant piece of youth marketing 

At this year’s YMS, Day One was all about the trends shaping youth culture. Alongside talks on the changing landscape of creativity / future tech / digital language / gender issues etc (plus the launch of Voxburner’s ‘Top Youth Brands report’) I chaired an ‘inspiration and collaboration’ session that featured a panel including Nick Davies of Neighbourly (who spoke about how social platforms encourage young collaborators to become a force for good), Gary Palmer at London Sport (who discussed the ways schools and colleges can help students unlock their potential) Alex King from The Body Shop (who showed how brands can better reflect collaboration and community), and a fascinating talk from Jack Lowman at The Prince’s Trust, illustrating how they’ve worked with young people in challenging situations, helping them to turn their lives around. A recurrent theme that ran through a lot of the Day One talks was highlighting the macro contextual trends that shape the society and culture in which young people lead their lives – with Brexit, Trump and ‘Post-Truth’ being dominant issues.

The last of which – without hopefully being too vast a leap – linked to my speech on Day Two.

The YMS organisers had asked me to give a talk on ‘a brilliant example of a long-running youth campaign that’s been massively successful via generating fame and word of mouth’.

To illustrate this, the campaign I chose (in which by an amazing coincidence, I played a very minor part) links Adland to a truly great brand purpose. A purpose-led campaign where the ‘Marketing of Culture’ (which in this instance involved a powerful leveraging of youthful rebellion) showed the ‘Culture of Marketing’ at its finest.

To cut a very long story short, back in the late 1990’s the largest civil litigation settlement in U.S. history took place – which basically meant recovering vast amounts of money spent on caring for sick and dying smokers via Medicaid – that resulted in tobacco companies providing individual US states with billions of dollars to run activity which included advertising aimed at reducing youth tobacco use.

Essentially kicking this all off, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky was briefed to create a hard-hitting anti-tobacco campaign for the Florida Pilot Program on Tobacco Control. (It went on to effectively become a pan-US campaign, still running in 2017.) The task they’d been set was to change social norms and reduce youth smoking. A big ask…

The research agency I was with (Informer, headed up by Graham Hall) linked up with Jen Urich, then CP+B Head of Planning, to help uncover and develop a core insight.

Youth marketing has always been obsessed with chasing two things: authenticity & cool.

And as any agency who’s ever worked on anti-tobacco comms knows, the first issue that you run into is that while young people know all about the perils of smoking, there are also plenty of ‘positives’ that have deliberately arisen as a result of decades of tobacco-industry comms; very much including the positioning of smoking as an act of rebellion and social bonding. But when conducting the Florida-based research, if there was one thing that this highlighted, it was that young Americans didn’t like being manipulated by brands. Because that is not cool. And clarifying that they were being treated like fools by pseudo-cool tobacco company advertising became a clarion call. Hence the resulting campaign including a series of Adbusters-esque messages essentially built around a theme of ‘Don’t be a walking target market… don’t be coerced into being replacement smokers in a market where one in three consumers dies.’ (A market where cigarette smoking is responsible for nearly 500,000 deaths per year in the US).

The strategy CP+B developed was to emphasize the facts about tobacco products and the tobacco industry’s cynical (and unfortunately, often creatively excellent) youth marketing activities, without preaching or talking down to its target audience. So the goal of the campaign was to counter the Post-Truth / Lies / Misinformation (choose your own phrase) used by the tobacco industry to sell its products to underage smokers.
There was also plenty of work done to make sure that, from a demographic pov ‘no-one was left behind’. As with many other health-related issues, an unfortunate fact about tobacco is that the people with the most money, access, and education exhibit healthier behaviour than those lower down the demographic scale.

So the big idea that came out of a suitably massive amount of thinking was to counter the appeal of cigarettes by encouraging teens to rebel against the duplicity and manipulation of tobacco companies. Essentially, the key thought was ‘Their brand is Lies – our brand is Truth’. And the campaign that resulted ‘Truth – a generation united against tobacco’ did indeed change social norms and massively reduced youth smoking.

As reported by AdAge at the time, the first Truth campaign was so good, Philip Morris USA actually threatened to stop its funding for the hard-won anti-tobacco settlement. (And this campaign was via good old TV-led / guerrilla-marketing supported activity; back in the time forgot i.e. before Twitter / Facebook et al existed).

That original big idea went on to be utilised by the American Legacy Foundation (a non-profit health organisation, itself now rebranded as the ‘Truth Initiative’) across the US. Generally consistent with Florida's campaign, Legacy’s version of Truth featured hard-hitting messages highlighting the deceptive practices of tobacco companies, and stark facts about the deadly effects of tobacco. (I also played a bit-part in some of the later work created in other US States i.e. on the creative development of some fantastic advertising created by Maris, West & Baker in Jackson, MS. Which is why I found myself in small-town Mississippi doing ethnographic research with marginalised teens).

Looking back on all that work and probably the most standout bit of communication (for me at least) featured hundreds of body bags being piled onto the pavement outside a tobacco company, to illustrate in a graphically hard-hitting manner what the ‘real life’ daily statistic of 1000+ tobacco related deaths looks like.

Truth was and remains massively successful – and via its latest iteration (#FinishIT via 72andSunny – is still going strong nearly twenty years after it was first created. It’s interesting to see just how the latest version of the campaign links so clearly to a range of youth trends spoken about at the 2017 Youth Marketing Summit, which highlighted how today’s teenagers are less interested in ‘mere’ protest, and more interested in driving positive collective action via community collaboration.

While the original Truth campaign was designed for a generation renowned for being naturally rebellious, Finish It was developed to suit the desire of the latest crop of youth to be agents of social change. (And this of course has obvious resonance with campaigns inc #LikeAGirl which featured so heavily in last year’s YMS event.) Hence a recent campaign being shot in the style of a video manifesto stating ‘We have the power. We have the creativity. We will be the generation that ends smoking. Finish It.’
So at a time when adland is under an onslaught of criticism, it’s worth giving plaudits to a campaign that has genuinely improved the health, and thus extended the lives, of countless people. As Fast Company noted, citing US Govt data Truth is part of the reason that teen smoking has dropped from about 25% before the campaign started, to 6% today.

It’s worth repeating a quote from the legendary Alex Bogusky (then Creative Director at CP+B) in the New York Times after we’d both been at an Anti-Tobacco Summit (along with a load of agency colleagues) where the campaign’s Big Idea was being fine-tuned. ‘Teens are very brand-conscious…we hope Truth will ultimately be a brand as cool as Camel and Marlboro.’

It’s quite a thought that, as I pointed out at the Youth Marketing Summit last week, huge numbers of the teenage youth that Truth was targeting way back in the 90’s have gone on to have their own kids – who will now be targeted by an updated version of the same anti-tobacco campaign. One that will go on to also improve their health, and help them to life longer lives.

And if I say so myself, the CP+B team achieved their aim.

Truth is cool.