About a half hour ago, I was doing some casual Facebook surfing. Suddenly, up pops up one of those pesky Facebook ad videos, uploaded and promoted by a group called “truth,” which, now I know, is a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to fighting smoking and tobacco usage. This campaign against smoking, which is an important cause in urging young adults to break tobacco addictions, seems like a great cause. The video caption told me that one of my favorite Youtubers, Grace Helbig, was in it – so I clicked on it. And immediately become horrified at what I was watching.
The video begins innocently enough, even comical, with young people using an app I assume to be Tinder. They are swiping right, which likes the profile of people they deem attractive (I think? I’m not on Tinder), but when they get to someone who smokes, they swipe left – and cue the awful, cheesy, degrading song about how if each guy or girl was smoking in their online picture, they would immediately swipe left, which, if you didn’t know (and I’m sure about this), dumps that person into the rejection pile. The video resembled something of a bad SNL skit. I was so horrified at what I was watching, it took me several minutes to compose my thoughts. But, after some time passed, I came up with some reasons why this video was completely insulting and a complete failure.
1. truth makes it clear that it is marketing to the Millennials – you know, the 18-25 year-olds who are just SO incredibly vain and shallow, they need to be told that something is unattractive to the desired sex in order to get them to stop. Was this created by 40-50 year olds in a damp, dark basement somewhere in Queens? I’m assuming this video cost money to make, so where is the research showing that this approach would be effective? truth wouldn’t invest money into a video without doing research on whether it would work or not, would they?
truth tells adolescents to “left swipe” people on Tinder who are smoking in their pictures.
Unfortunately, it really does seem that it did, because if it had, it would have noted that ads such as those made by MTV and those funded by the federal government have an included “shock factor” in their commercials. An article posted by the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids reveals that a campaign launched by the CDC in 2012 effectively helped more than 100,000 smokers to quit. This media campaign was led by an ad called “Tips from a Former Smoker,” a video which shows the horrors of smoking and what it can do to one’s health and body. While it took a total of $54 million to launch and complete the campaign, a federally-funded amount that the folks at truth, non-profit, simply don’t have, one can take a hint from how this ad was constructed to lead to its lasting effectiveness. Was truth trying to break the mold of anti-tobacco commercials? Possibly. But there is a main reason why the shock factor is a large part of these ads – because they work. You know what doesn’t work? A corny music video which degrades smokers while managing to mock the vanity of Millenials.
2. truth makes it seem, as others noted in the comment section, that smokers are not worth the “swipe right,” which is actually hurtful (weird!!) to smokers; the video shames them instead of supporting them. Studies have show that overweight individuals who were surrounded by positivity and support throughout their weight-loss journey lost a higher percentage of weight and were more likely to keep off the weight than those who also attempted to lose weight surrounded by negativity and shame. What if all addictions were treated like weight loss should be? What if smokers who were not shamed, but nudged into getting support before things could get worse? How much does truth really care about young smokers? How much does truth want them to stop? Please, tell me, because it doesn’t show in this ad.
3. truth implies that smoking is more of an accessory than an addiction. That it can be turned off by a reminder that “smoking is unattractive.” It’s just like getting the newest haircut or shopping for the newest fashions – you just do it, and you’ll be more attractive!
On the other side of the screen, do you think young smokers are going to quit smoking so they can get more Tinder swipes? There’s someone out there for everyone, we all know, even those weird people who accept smoking in a partner as part of the package. Do you think we live for swipes, truth? Do you think that we are so vain and shallow and disgusting that we are hurt by your suggestion that we are unattractive when we smoke? This perception that you have about the majority of our generation only applies (I will admit) to a select few. But this is a complete failure if you truly think that these are the values the Millenials hold.
To wrap things up, I just want to say, again, in case you didn’t understand, that this was an awful and offensive video to Millenial smokers. Pointing out flaws will not lead to rallied support. Calling someone unattractive will not cause an epiphany. An addiction will not be cured when it is treated like a light switch.
And, most importantly, shaming smokers will not cause them to quit.