Study Finds Philip Morris’ Anti-Smoking Ads Not Effective

Focus Groups of Youth Rank Tobacco Company’s Ads Last Among Several Anti-Smoking Campaigns

Apr. 7 1999

Washington, DC - Research conducted in three states with tobacco prevention campaigns indicates that kids believe that the “Think. Don’t Smoke.” recent youth anti-smoking ads produced by Philip Morris do not work. In a study released today, kids rank Philip Morris’ advertising campaign last in effectiveness when tested against other anti-smoking advertising. The study included focus groups of 7th to 10th graders and tested anti-smoking ads produced by the states of Massachusetts, California, Arizona and Florida, along with the Philip Morris ads. “This study shows that the Philip Morris campaign is unlikely to have much effect on deterring youth from smoking,” said Bill Novelli, president of the CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS. “On the other hand, it may help Philip Morris far more -- by making the company look responsible and reformed, and by staving off the legislative and regulatory changes that are needed.” The research consisted of a series of 20 mini-group discussions in three states. A total of about 120 youths participated in the discussions. They evaluated the main message of each ad and explained how much they felt the ad would make them “stop and think” about not smoking. The respondents consistently ranked characteristics of the state ads higher in effectiveness than those of the Philip Morris ads. Characteristics such as “portraying the negative consequences of smoking,” “stories about real people,” and “industry manipulation themes” made kids “stop and think about not using tobacco.” Respondents ranked ads with the “choice” theme, the only theme in the Philip Morris ads, as lowest in effectiveness. “It is a conflict of interest for Philip Morris to air any anti-smoking ads – period.” said Greg Connolly, Massachusetts Director of Tobacco Control. “Philip Morris is in no position to produce the type of advertising that we have found to work well with kids. The study found one of the most effective advertisements to be a Massachusetts ad featuring a former Marlboro Man who died from lung cancer. Philip Morris could not show health consequences without damaging the image of their most popular brand.” Philip Morris announced late last year that it was implementing a new youth smoking prevention program and would spend approximately $100 million during the first year, much of it on advertising. Every ad to date features the tagline, “Think. Don’t Smoke.” and tells kids they have a choice whether to smoke or not. None of the ads employ any of the messages the states have utilized which were found effective in the research. “Although the respondents understood the intended message of the Philip Morris ads -- that it's their choice whether to smoke and that they should not feel peer-pressured to do so -- they did not find this message to be at all compelling,” said Peter Zollo, president of TRU. “This message especially paled when compared to certain of the states' ads which graphically told of the horrible consequences of smoking.” The release of this study comes on the heels of news that the Florida youth anti-tobacco program, which includes anti-tobacco advertising with characteristics deemed effective, has shown progress in reducing teen smoking. In the one year since Florida embarked on this aggressive tobacco prevention program, smoking has dropped by 19 percent among middle school students. “The Florida program demonstrates convincingly that comprehensive youth anti-tobacco programs work,” said Novelli. “Advertising is an essential component. Having Philip Morris in the marketplace with an ineffective campaign may well get in the way of what the states are doing with their strong, clear messages.” Respondents for the research were screened to be 12 to 16 year olds who are “at-risk” of using tobacco by meeting any of the following three specifications: They “might” or are “pretty sure” they will start using tobacco in the next year. Some to most of their family and/or close friends use tobacco. They hold attitudes or beliefs which indicate a disposition to use tobacco. The focus groups were conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU), a marketing research firm that specializes in the teenage market. Six groups were conducted in Massachusetts from January 25-26, 1998; six in California from February 2-3, 1998; and eight in Arizona from March 1-4, 1998. In all three states, research was divided between two markets. A copy of the report follows. # # # COUNTER-TOBACCO ADVERTISING EXPLORATORY SUMMARY REPORT JANUARY-MARCH 1999 Prepared for: The States of Arizona, California, and Massachusetts Public Health Anti-Tobacco Media Campaigns Prepared by: Teenage Research Unlimited 707 Skokie Blvd., Suite 450 Northbrook, IL 60062 (847) 564-3440 BACKGROUND & OBJECTIVES Four U.S. states have conducted comprehensive anti-tobacco media campaigns over the last one to 10 years, with youths as a primary or secondary target audience: California, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Florida. Each state has developed a variety of ads over the years and has learned over time what kind of ads its youth best respond to, based on the type of tobacco-control program that has been established and other relevant factors. This research, sponsored by three of these states (California, Massachusetts, Arizona), represents the first multi-state collaboration on qualitative research to gauge the effectiveness of anti-tobacco media messages. In late 1998, the Philip Morris Company announced a new youth Smoking Prevention program, with first-year plans to spend approximately $100 million, primarily on an advertising campaign. The first three TV spots began airing in December 1998; they feature the tagline, “Think. Don’t Smoke.” The specific objectives of this qualitative research were to: Expose and have respondents evaluate selected counter-tobacco ads produced by the states of Massachusetts, California, Florida, and Arizona, as well as by Philip Morris Gain a qualitative understanding of the “stop and think” value of each ad relative to those created by Philip Morris METHODOLOGY Design A series of 20 mini-group discussions (recruiting seven to seat five respondents per group) was conducted in the states of Massachusetts, California, and Arizona in early 1999 to comprise this study. Six groups were conducted in Massachusetts on January 25th and 26th; six groups were conducted in California on February 2nd and 3rd; and eight groups were conducted in Arizona on March 1st through March 4th. In all three states, research was divided between two markets (Boston and Springfield in Mass.; Los Angeles and San Francisco in Calif.; and Phoenix and Tucson in Ariz.). Respondents for this study were 7th through 10th graders (ages 12 to 16). A total of approximately 120 youths participated in this study. Each focus-group session lasted approximately 90 minutes. Respondents were exposed to and asked to evaluate a series of ads from four of the states currently conducting anti-tobacco media campaigns, as well as ads from Philip Morris. The 10 ads exposed monadically in this qualitative research were: Pam Laffin (Mass.), Cowboy (Mass.), Voicebox (Calif.), Industry Spokesman (Calif.), I Decide (Ariz.), Pee Pee (Ariz.), Publishing (Fla.), Cinema—Deaths Planned (Fla.), Bus (Philip Morris), and Stairs (Philip Morris). The order of exposure of these ads was rotated to avoid positional bias. In particular, this technique helps to control for the potential that qualitative respondents may actually “learn” or “mature” during the research session, and their later responses could be affected by “what they learn” from previous discussions. Each ad was exposed and discussed individually and then discussed as a group at the conclusion. For each spot, respondents were asked to write down their interpretation of the main message of the commercial as well as a rating (based on a 1 to 10 scale) of how much they felt the ad would make them “stop and think” about not smoking (independently, prior to any discussion). Respondents were then asked to discuss each ad, after which they were directed to “shout out” to the moderator the point at which each ad should be placed on a “stop-and-think’ wall scale, where one side represented “This ad makes me really stop and think twice about not using tobacco” and the other side represented “This ad doesn’t at all make me stop and think twice about not using tobacco.” The moderator assigned the ad to the “average” point on the scale called out by the respondents. After all ads were exposed, respondents were given the opoportunity—having seen all the ads—to make any modifications to their previous ratings on the wall scale. Finally, respondents were asked to offer three suggestions they would give to people or organizations trying to develop effective ads to encourage young people not to use tobacco. Sample Respondents were recruited to be at-risk of using tobacco utilizing the screening questionnaire TRU has developed and evolved across its anti-tobacco research in the states of Massachusetts, Arizona, Oregon, Florida, and Illinois. Specifically, respondents were screened to be “at risk” of using tobacco by meeting any of the following three specifications: They “might” or are “pretty sure” they will start using tobacco (cigarettes or smokeless) in the next year They claim they probably won’t or might not start using tobacco, but some-to-most of their family and/or close friends use tobacco Through a battery of questions, they are found to hold certain attitudes or beliefs, which indicate a disposition to use tobacco As illustrated below the groups were segmented by grade and gender: Massachusetts Sample Composition(6 Groups/ 2 Nights) 7th and 8th grade males and females in Springfield and/or Boston 9th and 10th grade males and females in Springfield and/or Boston California Sample Composition (6 Groups/ 2 Nights) 7th and 8th grade males and females in San Francisco and/or Los Angeles 9th and 10th grade males and females in San Francisco and/or Los Angeles Arizona Sample Composition (8 Groups/ 4 Nights) 7th and 8th grade males and females in Phoenix and/or Tucson 9th and 10th grade males and females in Phoenix and/or Tucson In addition to their tobacco-usage status, all respondents were screened for articulateness (the ability and willingness to express themselves coherently in a group setting); past-research participation (none in past six months; no more than two projects in past three years); and security (no household members employed in advertising, marketing research, or for a manufacturer, distributor or retailer of tobacco items). Qualitative Limitations This study was qualitative in nature and intended to provide insights and direction, not absolute measures nor a quantitative assessment projectable to a larger population. The comments made in this report are based on information gathered from a relatively small sample of specialized respondents who were selected to participate because they met specific recruiting criteria; therefore, they are not representative of the overall population. This study cannot be considered statistically reliable or valid—nor was it meant to be. Given the number of ads exposed in this research, the time and depth of discussion devoted to each ad and respective message was limited. Importantly, this research was not designed to determine how to create a comprehensive anti-tobacco campaign, nor to recommend a single message that would be most effective in motivating teens not to use tobacco. Rather this research was conducted to assess the “stop and think” value of each ad relative to those created by Philip Morris. KEY FINDINGS & IMPLICATIONS The findings from the 20 focus groups in three states and six markets were extraordinarily consistent. Not only was the rank-order of the 10 tested TV commercials remarkably similar group after group, so were respondents’ explanations of their rankings. Based on this unusually high degree of consistency, the number of groups held, and the number and type of markets in which the research was conducted, we would expect the key learnings emanating from this study to remain relatively unchanged if this research were replicated in additional markets using a similar sample (age and at-risk status) and methodology. Therefore, the findings based on this research—though qualitative in design—appear to be highly conclusive. Key Findings Ads that graphically, dramatically, and emotionally portray the serious negative consequences of smoking were consistently rated as the highest by respondents in terms of making them “stop and think about not using tobacco.” Voicebox, Pam Laffin, Cowboy, and Cinema: Deaths Planned gripped respondents as intended—they were successful in truly giving these at-risk teens pause for serious thought. And, for the most part, these were found to be relateable ads to these young respondents. These teens grasped that both Debi and Pam began smoking when they were their age or younger, leaving them with the strong impression that this could happen to them. And, perhaps just as relevant, respondents were moved by the cowboy’s brother’s sadness; several offered that they, too, have had a family member who has either died or is currently suffering from the ill effects of tobacco. Respondents were shocked and mesmerized by the hole in Debi’s throat, from which she still smokes, and they typically reacted, “I would not want that to be me.” Respondents emotionally played back the various effects smoking has had on Pam’s life, from the lump on her neck to her emphysema to the fact that medication left her with a “fat face.” One teen verbalized respondents’ reactions to this ad by stating that Pam Laffin’s life has become a “living hell,” reflecting that teens appear to be particularly moved by the thought of living with (perhaps as opposed to dying from) afflictions of tobacco use. In Cowboy, respondents were clearly affected by the sadness of the Marlboro man’s brother and impacted by the strong visual of the former cigarette spokesman lying in his hospital bed “with all those tubes.” Respondents took away a strong, dual message: the dire consequences of smoking and the toll it takes on the family. (Notably, California teens did take away an industry-manipulation theme.) Finally, in Deaths Planned, respondents consistently played back the morgue with the bodybags lined up in it, as well as the magnitude of the deaths caused by tobacco: “3,000,000 and counting.” What’s key to note is that stories about real people—to whom respondents could relate—contributed to the high rankings of several of these ads. And when those real stories dimensionalized the impact on the smokers’ families, participants also responded with higher ratings. Even though Pam, Debi, and the cowboy are adults, the teen respondents were able to identify with them and their stories. In the case of Pam and Debi, what seemed to add impact was the fact that both women clearly explained in their ads that they began smoking when they were young (ages 10 and 13). The fact that these were real people who suffered so much seemed to help respondents understand the grave consequences of smoking. Underscoring the value and concern teens hold for their families, respondents were particularly affected by Cowboy, when the brother talks about his great loss. One 7th-grade male respondent said, “He loved his brother, and now he really misses him.” An ad’s ability to catch and keep respondents’ attention contributed to higher “stop-and-think” ratings. Cinema: Deaths Planned clearly benefited in ratings because of its action-packed, attention-getting imitation of a movie trailer. Many teens in the groups mentioned that this ad got their attention from the start and held it throughout. Although Pee Pee was polarizing in terms of its “stop-and-think” ability, those teens who rated it highly often explained that it successfully caught their attention because of the set-up (i.e., a “stupid-sounding” boy talking to a friend as a dog looks on) and held onto it due to the humorous, unexpected occurrence (the dog extinguishing the cigarette by lifting its leg). Ads with industry-manipulation themes such as Cinema: Deaths Planned, Industry Spokesman, and Publishing were rated higher by respondents in California (where there has been a history of industry-manipulation advertising and education). In contrast, these ads were sometimes misunderstood and/or were rated lower by respondents in the other states, who haven’t previously been exposed to these types of message and did not connect a deceitful, uncaring, and greedy industry (as portrayed in the ads and generally taken away by respondents) with a strong reason not to smoke. For example, in other states some of the teens—both younger and older—were unsure of the intent of Industry Spokesman, with some even commenting that they thought it was encouraging tobacco use and/or that it was developed by the tobacco industry. Ads that focused on the “choice” theme (i.e., be yourself, you can choose whether to smoke) were consistently rated among the lowest. Ads included in this study which communicated the “choice” message included Stairs, Bus, and I Decide. Respondents explained that these ads did not have enough substance—they didn’t give them good reasons not to smoke nor did they provide them with any new information. Some teens also noted that these ads give opinions rather than facts—the ads stress individuals’ choices without being clear as to the serious consequences of smoking. Many times, respondents offered comments such as, “They need to show us what it [tobacco] can do to us." Ads which included a diversity of young people were praised by many respondents (especially the younger teens) for showing people their age (or close to it) to whom they could relate. Some respondents expressed comfort in seeing that other people their age were going through the same things as they. It’s important to note, though, the difficulty in portraying truly relateable teens. Some respondents panned these ads (Stairs, Bus, and I Decide) for being too scripted—for trying “too hard” and not succeeding in realistically or believably portraying real kids. As a few respondents said, “Kids just don’t speak like that.” In contrast, respondents found the two teen boys in Publishing to be believable, real kids (though they didn’t find that ad to be particularly compelling). After respondents had viewed all 10 ads, they were told that two were made by a tobacco company and asked to guess which two. Many teens pointed to Bus and Stairs. In fact, more respondents correctly guessed that these were the two tobacco-company-sponsored ads than any of the other eight ads tested. When asked to explain why they believed that Bus and Stairs were the two tobacco-sponsored ads, some respondents commented simply that “they’re lame” or “they’re trying too hard.” Other teens commented that these ads give kids a choice to smoke or not to smoke—and noted that some kids will choose to smoke, which is what the tobacco companies really want. Several teens pointed out that neither Bus nor Stairs say or show anything that’s really dangerous about smoking (though some did notice the Surgeon General warnings). Contrasting these two ads to some of the other exposed executions, these respondents said that the Philip Morris ads don’t show the health consequences of smoking. A few teens pointed out that these ads, unlike some others which were shown, seem to make teens responsible for their decision to smoke, thereby taking the blame off the tobacco companies. Finally, a few teens said these ads “sound like our parents” in commanding them (rather than showing them why) not to smoke When probed about the tagline used in the Stairs and Bus ads (“Think. Don’t Smoke.”), few respondents remembered it or showed any strong feelings for or against it. Similarly, when probed about who created these ads, only a few recalled seeing the company name on the screen and virtually no one knew who/what Philip Morris is. Some respondents even asked, “Who’s he?” Implications Ads with a “consequences” message, which effectively tell stories about real people suffering from the horrible consequences of smoking, appear to be highly compelling to “at-risk” youth. These are the ads that appear to be highly successful in prompting them to seriously “stop and think about not using tobacco”; therefore, these types of ads should be considered as a key part of an overall anti-tobacco media campaign. In this research, the findings in all three states were extremely consistent in terms of uncovering the strength of this type of ad. This does not imply that the “consequences” type of ad is the only genre which can effectively communicate a motivating anti-tobbaco message to youth, nor does it imply that such ads would absolutely prevent youth from using tobacco; however, it does suggest that this type of anti-tobacco ad might be the most powerful to the target. Therefore, ads which emotionally and graphically demonstrate the consequences of tobacco use should be included as part of a comprehensive youth anti-tobacco media campaign. Findings related to the “industry-manipulation” theme warrant further exploration. The disparity in response to ads which were intended to communicate this theme between California respondents versus respondents in the other two states in which this research was conducted may suggest that the ads’ resonance in California is explained by that state’s long-term commitment to industry manipulation as a theme (albeit targeted to an adult audience). In essence, the efficacy of this theme may be dependent upon having established a media climate and—ultimately—a social climate in which the tobacco industry is perceived as employing manipulative practices. The “choice” theme does not appear to be strong enough to effectively prompt “at-risk” youth to seriously “stop and think” about not using tobacco. This message does not appear to offer any compelling reason to these teens not to smoke. Therefore, campaigns should not be developed with a “choice” theme as a key foundation. Ad campaigns, such as the Philip Morris “youth prevention” effort, which allocate significant media spending to various ad executions which all share this theme, may not be effective at motivating youth not to smoke. It’s also important to consider whether these types of ads—when shown within states which are running comprehensive, cohesive, and integrated campaigns—might dilute the impact of these states’ efforts. And, in those states without current media campaigns, it’s important to consider how much more effective it would be to run existing states’ advertising (particularly those which dramatically and relevantly communicate consequence messages) than to air the Philip Morris type of ad. It’s key to recognize that social-marketing efforts targeted to teenagers tread a tenuous line; it’s a constant concern as to whether a multitude of non-related messages or the impact of weaker executions would actually “backfire” on at-risk youth. Therefore, it will be critical to closely monitor whether (and the degree to which) the Philip Morris effort diminishes the impact of the states’ current campaigns. Clearly, a less-risky and overall more sound strategy (though perhaps not viable) would appear to be to increase the media weight of the current states’ ads and/or to develop new executions within the framework of the existing state campaigns, rather than to run the Philip Morris ads, which not only were found to be relatively ineffective in this study, but also may dilute the current states’ efforts. “Consequences” and “industry-manipulation” ads that offer realistic portrayals of young people may strengthen their ability to prompt youth to “stop and think.” When respondents in the focus groups were asked at the end of the sessions for suggestions of how to make the most effective anti-smoking ads, many suggested using more young people—realistically portrayed. Although in “Voicebox” and “Pam” the principals are adults, respondents identified with the afflicted smokers at least in part because they began smoking when they were quite young (some respondents commented that Pam “used to be pretty when she was our age”). Therefore, it appears that anti-smoking ads featuring real adults can resonate with teens. Further, some ads (Cowboy and Voicebox, being two examples) might be universal in their ability to prompt teens and adults “stop and think.” Therefore, incorporating teens within anti-smoking ads is certainly not a mandate, but just one way to make the messages or stories more relateable to young people. ABOUT THE RESEARCH FIRM Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU) was founded in 1982 as the first marketing-research firm to specialize exclusively in the teenage market. TRU is a full-service firm, providing syndicated, qualitative, and quantitative research to its clients. Kids Research Unlimited is TRU’s youngest division. TRU has pioneered a host of techniques developed specifically for researching teenagers both qualitatively and quantitatively. Among TRU’s innovations is the first applied nondemographic segmentation of the teen population, known as Teen/Types. TRU’s syndicated Teenage Marketing & Lifestyle Study is the largest of its type, probing 2,000 teens twice a year on trends, lifestyles, attitudes, and consumer behaviors. Last year, TRU conducted nearly 1,000 focus groups in addition to many in-depth interviews and customized quantitative studies. TRU’s clients are a virtual “who’s who” of youth marketing, including leading brands in the following categories: soft-drinks, athletic shoes, jeans and apparel, video games, snacks and candy, restaurant chains, health and beauty aids, computer software, telecommunications, and financial services. Additionally, TRU conducts research and provides consultation for teen social-marketing causes, including anti-tobacco and anti-drug use, life safety, and prevention of sexual assault and skin cancer. TRU is headquartered in Northbrook, Ill., a Chicago suburb. TRU’s staff includes research and marketing professionals with advertising-agency, brand-management, and social-research backgrounds. In the past 15 years, TRU has interviewed more than 250,000 teenagers.


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