Talk: They May Smoke More – Jessica Miller
During the first half of the century, men and women smoked freely without much regard for the health consequences that lay ahead. In 1965, for example, the smoking prevalence among US adults was42.5% (1). Since that time, however, science has demonstrated the severe health effects brought on by tobacco use, such as lung cancer, ischemic heart disease and strokes (2).
Philip Morris, one of the largest tobacco companies in the world, sponsored an anti-smoking campaign in 1999 titled: “Talk: they’ll listen”. This campaign included a series of commercials (3,4) encouraging parents to talk to their children about not smoking. For the purpose of this paper I will focus on only two of the commercials, which each have their own flaws, in addition to the main overarching flaw of the campaign.
Commercial one (3) begins with a young teenage girl, approximately 14 years old, preparing to go out with a group of friends. On her way out the door she encounters her father, who being the great parent Philip Morris says we all should be, makes sure he instructs his daughter not to smoke while she’s out. Switch scenes and she is now out with her group of friends. Said daughter is offered a cigarette to which she easily and confidently responds (apparently with her father’s words of wisdom still fresh in her mind) “No, thanks”. With her confident air still reflected in the background, the words “Talk. They’ll listen.” flash across the screen.
Commercial two (4) begins by showing a series of children, approximately 9-12 years old, depicting the announcer’s descriptions as he orates: “You’ve seen it before: there’s the eye roll. The heavy sigh. The blank stare. But don’t let that stop you from talking to your kids about not smoking. Because it’s not about their reaction here [while talking to them] it’s about their reaction here…” Pan to a cool looking teenage guy, approximately 16 or 17, hanging out with a group of friends. He is offered a cigarette and, like his peer above, confidently responds, “No, thanks”. The announcer then says, “Talk to your kids about smoking. They’ll listen [just like that cool 17 year old did] even if they don’t show it”. As he says the last line, the commercial shows a pudgy 9 or 10-year-old boy in mismatched clothes with a lawn chair on top of his head, apparently listening to you tell him not to smoke, just not showing it.
My description of these two commercials, though admittedly biased, likely foreshadows some of the major flaws of this campaign. This, however, should have indicated to Philip Morris the first signs of trouble. If merely describing the components of the commercials reveals glaring defects, then perhaps the campaign’s framework should be rethought. The main theories of social science which I feel this campaign failed to take into account are: the theory of psychological reactance, social modeling theory, and marketing theory. Their failure to do so resulted in an ineffective public health campaign.
Critique Argument 1
The Philip Morris campaign directly challenges teens’ autonomy. The theory of psychological reactance posits that people become motivationally aroused when their behavioral freedom is threatened (5). As we discussed in class, it is a biological response to want to be in control. In commercial one, the very first thing the father says to the daughter is, “why the makeup?” Already, before even addressing smoking, this puts the daughter on the defense and threatens her control over her appearance. Teenagers watching this commercial can immediately relate to the daughter as teens often feel as though they are being ‘attacked’ by their parents for how they look/dress. From that first comment about her makeup, the father then goes into negotiations about curfew. However, as most teens’ experience would confirm, this doesn’t end up being a negotiation, for the father’s firm 10pm remains in effect-once again, threatening the teen’s autonomy of motion.
Finally, after two authoritative interactions, which would leave any teenager feeling less in control, the father daughter pair sound off the evening’s rules in a drill like manner with the father saying “no…” and the daughter responding “drinking”. Again the father says “and no…” to which the daughter responds “smoking”. In 20 short seconds of commercial, the father has successfully challenged the teen’s autonomy in her appearance [makeup], movement [curfew], and behavior [drinking & smoking].
The conversation between the teen and father is entirely paternalistic and one-sided. Every word that the father says is authoritative and instructive, purposefully setting out to limit the daughter’s autonomy. As stated above, teens watching this interaction play out will be able to relate to the teen on screen, and immediately feel the lack of control that is felt when your parents authoritatively list off rules. The slogan of the campaign is “talk: they’ll listen”. This whole commercial, however, is a father talking at his daughter instead of with his daughter.
Teens are in very formative years, coming out of childhood and moving toward adulthood. Many of these years are spent testing limits and exploring the boundaries. The theory of psychological reactants suggests that strictly enforcing boundaries, telling someone what they cannot do, is not only ineffective, but will actually drive them to want to do it. Additionally, teens value their autonomy and want to project and image of self-control (6).
Commercial one for the “talk: they’ll listen” campaign fails to take into account the theory of psychological reactants by focusing only on the parents as the target audience. Unfortunately, people of all ages will see this commercial. Teens seeing the commercial will likely here “no” and quickly relate with the teen on screen, perhaps even bringing to mind a recent interaction with one of their parents, and immediately feel a lack of control. When a lack of autonomy is felt, the theory of psychological reactants suggests that we immediately want to regain control by being non-0compliant (5). In this case, the psychological reactant would be to smoke. Therefore, this campaign, unfortunately, has quite the opposite effect of its original intent.
Critique Argument 2
The Philip Morris campaign did not take into consideration the numerous social and environmental factors that influence teens’ behavior. The decision to smoke is not made in a vacuum. We are not born with a biological desire to smoke; rather, it is a learned behavior. Social modeling theory posits that people learn through observing others’ behavior, attitudes, and outcomes of those behaviors (7). In adolescence, these social cues become particularly important as many teens are trying to ‘find themselvess’ and learn what it means to be an individual and make decisions. For the first time in their lives they are afforded some level of autonomy, and they look to their peers for social cues on how to dress, talk, and other social behaviors-including smoking.
Unfortunately, both commercials focused only on parental guidance to influence adolescent’s behavior. Even if the adolescents are listening, which commercial number two seems to demonstrate that they are not, their peers’ voices are much louder and more relevant to their current social model. In adolescence there are a lot of people in your life talking. Studies show that peer influence on teen smoking initiation is actually stronger than parental influence. From birth until around puberty, parents are often the most influential people in a child’s life. Children receive their social cues from their parents by observing how they talk and interact with society. Parents teach their children to walk, talk, dress, etc. However, once the teenage years set in that paradigm shifts as their peers quickly become the dominant social influence. They are no longer seeking their parent’s approval, but rather their peers.
The ‘Talk: they’ll listen’ campaign is aimed at reducing adolescent smoking behavior. However, they failed to take into account who influences adolescent’s behavior the most. They incorrectly identified the parents, when their peers may actually be the stronger social teachers. Therefore, the campaign was unsuccessful as they chose the wrong agents to deliver their message.
Critique Argument 3
Lastly, the “Talk: they’ll listen” campaign incorrectly identifies the core value. The core value of the campaign is communication. Therefore, the intervention proposed in both of the commercials is simply to open the lines of communication with your teen. The campaign suggests that once parents communicate their expectations regarding smoking, teens will then make the right decision.
Marketing theory suggests that it is of first importance to identify the most important core value and design your advertising campaign around that core value. In my opinion, communication is not the core value at stake for teens considering smoking, but rather freedom. By incorrectly identifying the core value, they designed an inappropriate intervention and campaign.
Teens and parents have a notoriously difficult time communicating. As mentioned in the above critique, teens are constantly testing their boundaries forcing parents to continuously enforce the rules. These interactions are often not pleasant, causing both parties frustration.
Many parents fear that tension will arise if they bring up the subject of smoking, or challenge any other behavior. The producers try to address these fears, however, by showing that even after the father in commercial one authoritatively lays down the rules, the daughter still kisses him goodbye. The ever hopeful, rarely accurate, teen/parent send off. As if to say, ‘nothing to fear, parents. Your children won’t feel threatened by the conversation, but rather grateful for your parenting’.
Communication is possibly an important component of smoking prevention, but I would suggest that it is not the core value. By mis-identifying the core value, the campaign forfeited a huge opportunity to target the real core value at stake, which I will address further in my proposed intervention.
Since the “Talk: they’ll listen” campaign was based on commercial advertising, I wanted to continue in that vein. For my intervention, I propose a commercial campaign titled: “Free to be you.” The up and coming generation is one of the most creative generations to date, with limitless opportunities to express themselves. The campaign will capitalize on teenager’s natural desire to look for any outlet possible to express themselves and make their voice heard. Rather than focusing on the negative and taking autonomy away, this campaign would focus on liberty and encourage teens to be who ever they want to be.
The first step I took in designing this campaign was to identify the primary cause of teen smoking. As stated earlier in the paper, the desire to smoke is not a biological response, but rather a learned social behavior. Therefore, rather than trying to combat that behavior by encouraging parents to communicate, my campaign would address the impetus for adopting that behavior. Problem behavior theory suggests (8) that associating with peers who smoke may increase the acceptability and attractiveness of smoking (9, 10) One study showed that approximately 40% of teens say that having friends who smoke and/or peer pressure is the number one reason for starting to smoke (11). However, numerous studies have also showed that this peer pressure is primarily normative and not coercive (12, 13). By properly identifying the cause of teen smoking, you can identify an appropriate intervention.
The next step was to identify the core value of my campaign. I chose freedom and individuality, because I believe those to be an especially true core value for most adolescents. In one way or another, a large portion of adolescence is spent pursuing freedom. Childhood is left behind and adulthood is ahead, including all of the perceived freedoms that come with that transition. I wanted my campaign to focus on freedom from peer influence. The freedom to make your own choices in life, which I would argue is the pursuit of most teens, the opportunity to make their own choices, and to have the encouragement to do so.
Rather than the parents, I chose the target audience to be the teens themselves. Ultimately, they are the individuals making the final decision about whether or not to smoke; therefore, I think the most effective intervention will be targeted at the actual consumer. The campaign’s ‘product’ is ‘teen smoking prevention’, while the targeted consumers are the teens.
After identifying my product, consumer, target audience, and core value, I was then ready to design my campaign. Capitalizing on the tenets of advertising theory, I want to have a relevant, catchy song throughout the commercial. The scene would open showing a group of teens all smoking, dressed relatively similarly, and repeating the same motion of bringing the cigarette to their mouth, inhaling, and exhaling. The purpose of this scene would be to create a sense of uniformity, unoriginality. This scene would then be contrasted by sequential scenes of teens being doing incredibly original and creative things from large art projects to video productions. I think I would also need to choose some sort of song that expresses words of freedom and individuality, but I haven’t identified a particular song yet. The point of the contrasting scene would be to encourage adolescence to pursue their passions, to be creative and independent, to live outside of the box. I would end with the tagline: “Why try to be the same, when you were created to stand out?”
Defense of intervention 1: Restoring autonomy
Opposed to the “Talk: they’ll listen” campaign which directly threatened teen’s autonomy, this campaign purposes to increase their autonomy and encourage their potential to make their own choices, to be an individual, and live free from peer pressure. Whatever their passion is, this commercial is intended to encourage them to pursue it.
By encouraging freedom of choice, this will avoid the negative social reactant of needing to immediately regain control by doing the very behavior society is prohibiting. Positively promoting their individuality, rather than a negatively limiting their freedom will hopefully be a more successful approach to behavior modification. According to psychological reactants theory, when people feel supported rather than limited they are more open to receive messages.
Defense of intervention 2: Addressing social/environmental factors
The Philip Morris campaign failed to address the strong social influences teens experience by limiting the intervention to the home environment. Conversely, my campaign would recognize the power of peer influence on adolescent smoking initiation.
As addressed in the critique, social modeling theory posits that people learn through observing others’ behavior, attitudes, and outcomes of those behaviors. By portraying smoking as a dull, conformist behavior I hope to change their opinion of smoking.
The proposed intervention purposes to challenge teens’ perception that smoking is a good social norm, and seeks to endorse individuality and uniqueness as the new social norm. By contrasting the two scenes, the commercial creates two clear choices: follower or leader. The hope is that it will encourage and empower teens to forge their own path rather than follow the pack.
Defense of intervention 3: Correctly identify the core value
Keeping in line with marketing theory’s suggestion to design campaigns around a core value, I chose freedom and individuality, which are very similar and easily intertwined. In recent years, I have noticed teens stepping out in increasingly unique and creative ways, expressing their individualism. Individuality is this generation’s core value, and a successful campaign should capitalize on this reality. Uniformity and ‘sameness’ is no longer the pursuit of many teens. My commercial would seek to associate smoking with conformity, and therefore pitch it as the enemy of individualism. I chose the slogans ‘Free to be you’ and ‘Why be the same when you were created to stand out?’ because I felt these are relatable aspirations for teens and would increase feelings of autonomy.
Many teens often feel misunderstood. Accurately identifying the core value will help to ensure that the target audience is not only reached, but feels understood. Demonstrating an understanding of where teens are coming from and their aspirations will increase trust and hopefully result in increased reception to our campaign message.
The “Talk: they’ll listen” campaign failed to properly take into account the theory of psychological reactance, social modeling theory, and marketing theory. As a result, their campaign wasted large sums of money, and some studies show an actual increase in smoking rates among adolescents as a result of this campaign (14). The proposed “Free to be you” campaign sets out to restore adolescent’s autonomy, embrace their identity and target their core values of freedom and individuality.
Adolescent anti-smoking campaigns are difficult to design because there are wide ranges of maturity levels, backgrounds, and social and environmental factors to consider. By arranging appropriate focus groups and including adolescents in the design of the campaign I think that they can be successful, or, at very least, not harmful.
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