New Twist on the “Truth” Campaign: Does It Hurt or Help Big Tobacco?

A scene in the American Legacy Foundation's latest anti-smoking campaign

The American Legacy Foundation’s latest anti-smoking campaign calls out celebs for smoking — but is it drawing the wrong kind of attention?

Premiering during this year’s VMAs, The American Legacy Foundation’s newest anti-smoking ad campaign packed a punch aimed at big tobacco companies, as well as a thought-provoking message for millions of young viewers.

This 30-second #FinishIt commercial is part of Legacy’s ongoing “Truth” Campaign, which has been running anti-tobacco PSAs and ads in print, television, and radio since 2000. The term “Finish It” refers to teenage smoking rates dropping to 9 percent, which is 23 percent less than when Legacy first launch its now-famous campaign.

The rapid-fire ad flashes images of celebrities (typically those perceived as unintelligent, trashy, or wild partiers) smoking cigarettes. There was a great mix of famous people whom Gen Y/millennials deem unpopular or unintelligent (such as Kirsten Stewart, Chris Brown, and Lindsay Lohan) as well as cool celebrities (such as Rihanna and Orlando Bloom) caught looking grimy and unfocused.

I loved the blunt copy, which called out the free marketing smoking celebrities give to tobacco companies. I thought this was a brilliant way to make all the celebrities seem like foolish pawns to corporations. Simultaneously, the ad invoked TV viewers to make their own choice on whether they also want to give tobacco bigwigs “free” advertising. 

Legacy CEO Robin Koval, summed up the ad’s ultimate message: “We created the ‘Finish It’ campaign to empower teens to make the fight against tobacco use their own. We want to remind them that their generation has the power to accelerate the decline in youth smoking and even end it for good.”

Interestingly, the legacy campaign made a follow-up ad that appeared in the next commercial break following the above #FinishIt ad above. I thought this ad did a fantastic job of explaining that this ad wasn’t meant to personally bash the smoking celebrities,  rather it was to attack the perception of smoking as something”cool” and the big tobacco companies that want young people to believe that smoking will make them seem interesting and rebellious.

While I was impressed by Legacy’s marketing and advertising tactics, a look at their Facebook page reveals that some VMA viewers were unhappy with ad campaign’s portrayal of smoking celebrities. The viewers mostly complained that the commercial was ironically giving big tobacco companies even more publicity by showing these celebrities smoking (despite UNPAID TOBACCO SPOKESPERSON being plastered across their face).

I personally do not think that the Legacy ad was being counterproductive in their aggressive tactics, though I do understand the danger of showing this ad to a young child that doesn’t understand the “free marketing” angle.

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What’s your opinion on the two #FinishIT commercial spots? Do you think the ad has an effective call-to-action to young people to make a choice not to smoke? Do you think the ad is ultimately self-defeating because it keeps showing pictures of celebrities smoking? Do you think that the “Truth” campaign is better off with their shocking ads depicting people with severe cigarette-related health problems? Share you thoughts!


8 thoughts on “New Twist on the “Truth” Campaign: Does It Hurt or Help Big Tobacco?

  1. When i first discovered this campaign i actually thought it was going to do the opposite.. like when people who are obsessed with twilight etc, see this “authority” figure bashing their fave celebs, they are going to want to defend their life style choices (we all know how dedicated fan girls are, they will literally defend every aspect of their fave celebrity’s life).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This article brings a different side of tobacco promotion that I was not aware of before. I agree that celebrities are put on a pedestal, especially for young adults but it does depend on the person for how much seeing a certain celebrity smoking will effect them personally. I do think that if all celebrities made a change to stop smoking it would effect the percentage of young smokers somewhat, but not a lot and I don’t think there is a lot that can be done to stop celebrities from smoking. It’s their personal choice in the end.


  3. I honestly think the ads with the people who have health related issues due to smoking are more effective than this new campaign. Frankly, I was shocked when I first saw the commercial with the woman with a big hole in her neck who needed the breathing device. A lot of people don’t care what celebrities do or don’t do. I think taking average people in these campaigns is more effective.


  4. I don’t think this is the best subject for an anti smoking ad. I understand the angle of calling out celebrities and showing them looking unhealthy as they puff on cigarettes. But, many fans of these specific celebrities may defend them and miss the message of the ad. Other ads that show people in poor health due to smoking are far more effective.


  5. I think the campaign is effective in making people think, as most people have become desensitized to the ads that display smoking health hazards, but I still have a few reservations. The first commercial just doesn’t make much sense to me. Celebrities aren’t advertising anything… they’re just living their lives and the paparazzi/world is just watching. Rather than attacking celebrities, why not encourage teens to think for themselves? Most people wouldn’t start smoking just because Orlando Bloom does. Also, if we’re going to blame celebrities for teen smoking, doesn’t that mean we have to blame them for well, everything? I just feel like this argument is too far stretched to be valid but that’s just my opinion.

    I love the second commercial though, and I think the message is very strong. I like how they reference things like VHS and land lines too, to make smoking seem SO 90’s and #overit. I smoke way less cigarettes than I did in high school so maybe they really are onto something. 8)


  6. I think this ad backfires. The scare campains really worked for me but these ads featuring celebrities don’t really work. These people are celebrities therefore somebody has to like them. People in the younger generations will see people that they look up to smoking and that’s a problem.


  7. I agree with their message that smoking should end yet I was not convinced by their presentation. In the first ad it seems to be targeting celebrities to stop smoking because they are just giving big tobacco free advertising yet as smokers I’m sure they don’t really care making it not convincing and in the second there isn’t a clear message, sure to stop smoking but just saying big tobacco is taking advantage wouldn’t be a strong enough reason for me to quit.


  8. I agree with the previous posters who say this ad is ineffective. I wasn’t even aware most of those celebrities smoked until I saw those pictures on tv.

    There’s a reason cigarette companies aren’t allowed to advertise on television anymore–and it’s the same reason alcohol commercials can’t show people actively drinking (like NPH jokes about in the new Heineken ads): it puts an easy imitated action in kids’ minds. So why can any ad–even anti-smoking ones–show those same actions?

    Regrettably, I am a smoker (recently switched to electronic cigarettes, weaning down the nicotine level). I don’t blame my choice to smoke on advertising I saw as a kid, the fact my dad worked at Philip Morris, or that I saw all my friends doing it in high school. Maybe those things influenced my choice, but I also knew the many dangers of smoking long before I picked up that first cigarette. In the end, it was MY choice, albeit a stupid one. So I’m not saying this ad will encourage smoking–just that it might actually negate its intended purpose.


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