Correction to This Article
This article misidentified the president of Elevacion, a Hispanic ad agency. He is Jim H. Learned. The article should also have said that the QuitLine is run by the American Cancer Society.

One Goal, Two Very Different Anti-Smoking Campaigns

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Let's say you're a smoker. What might persuade you to try to quit?

Would it be an ultra-cool warning from former Redskin Darrell Green, sleek in a black suit, backed by an equally hip graphic artist? Maybe an upbeat riff from a local go-go band?

Or would it be sinister warnings of poison and disease, featuring a satanic figure made of cigarette smoke?

The answer, the American Lung Association of D.C. believes, depends partly on the culture you come from. So it is aiming two flashy anti-smoking campaigns in two very different directions: one in English, targeting African Americans, and one in Spanish, for Latinos.

"These are the populations that have the highest rates of smoking, and of tobacco-related health disparities -- heart disease, stroke, cancer -- particularly in the Medicaid and under-served population," says Debra Annand, director of the lung association project that launched the ad campaigns two months ago.

The radio and television spots, plus bus shelter and Metro posters, mark the first big push to come out of the $10 million the District allocated for anti-smoking efforts in mid-2007, using its portion of a 1998 national settlement by tobacco companies. In both languages, they try to get smokers to call the local lung association's "QuitLine," where staffers offer free nicotine patches, lozenges and counseling.

The difference in tone between the two campaigns is striking. The English-language version, designed by Global Advertising 1st of Lanham, features the friendly, dapper Green. He warns of the "250 deadly poisons " in cigarettes, but the theme is more about getting smart than getting scared. A taped message from "your old friend Darrell Green" also greets callers to the English-language line at 800-QUITNOW and says encouragingly that just by making the call, a smoker demonstrates "wisdom and strength." In a similarly lively vein, radio spots by the Washington go-go band Mambo Sauce lead off with an exuberant "What's up, D.C.?" and band members say they couldn't make music if they smoked.

In contrast, the main character in the Spanish-language campaign, devised by Elevacion, a Georgetown-based Hispanic ad agency, is the villain: a dramatically anthropomorphized vision of smoking itself. Besides the print ads featuring the gloating face of a devil (such as the one on Page F1), a television spot will chill anyone who remembers the Marlboro Man: A glum immigrant sits at a table, saying, "I have no one in this country." He is approached by a lanky cowboylike character who offers him solace -- in the form of a gun. As the dismal figure puts the gun to his own temple, the weapon turns into a cigarette and the cowboy dissolves into cigarette smoke. "Who needs enemies when you have friends like this?" asks a voice.

"The data showed us that these immigrants get here and they are alone; that is the excuse for why they're smoking,'" said Jim Leonard, Elevacion's president. "We wanted to demonize those excuses -- and we're going to make this [Marlboro] man the demon."

Annand says both campaigns are successful. "We're seeing a tremendous increase in calls . . . from 350 two years ago to 1,400 last year, and 2,000 so far this year." And 70 percent of callers, she says, take steps to get help in overcoming their addiction.

Next month the agency is planning to launch a new campaign, this one targeting youth smokers. Annand says that one of the biggest deterrents to teenage smoking is price, and that means the anti-smoking effort is going to get a boost before it even starts: On Oct. 1, the District's excise tax on cigarettes will double, from $1 to $2 on a 20-smoke pack.

You might say there'll be the devil to pay.

-- Nancy Szokan


© 2008 The Washington Post Company