The Truth Campaign to end teen smoking prides itself on providing the public with the real facts regarding adolescent cigarette use, but how the campaign presents this information makes us wonder how truthful Truth really is.
The campaign presents conflicting messaging to readers, making it tricky to understand exactly what motivates the organization. On one hand, it encourages teens to stay away from cigarettes. On the other hand, its marketing campaign focuses on stigmatizing smokers rather than engaging this demographic. Their scare-tactics and meme-heavy marketing campaign disregard what they are supposed to stand for, which is encouragement of responsible behavior without shaming different lifestyles.
Because we're so curious about this specific campaign, we decided to dig into the facts behind the organization and their supporters in an attempt to understand the truth behind Truth.
Who Are They?
Started by The Legacy Foundation, Truth is a campaign with good intentions but a mixed record when it comes to ideas and execution. They focus on delivering one simple message: smoking isn’t good. Considering they were founded using funds generated by winning a 1998 lawsuit against major tobacco companies, their focus is fitting. The organization's goal is to end teen smoking entirely; as of right now, 8% of American teens smoke. Truth encourages teens to partake in conversations and take an social stance online by voicing their decision to not smoke cigarettes. This movement doesn’t just end with teens, either; it involves college students around America, too.
One of the complicating factors of this campaign is that, as part of the 1998 settlement, Truth can’t attack or mention specific tobacco companies in their operations. Rather, they can only criticize the act of smoking itself and emphasise the associated health risks. As a result, the campaign is focused on shaming smoking rather than lobbying major organizations or the government. This is problematic because although they preach things like “Gaming Not Shaming” and “We don’t hate. We instigate,” their actions speak differently.
What might leave viewers perplexed about Truth with regards to their marketing strategy is the distortion of their values in their practices. They say that they exist to inform, start a movement and end a serious issue. However, some of their practices seem to mock smokers and cannabis users. Their playful, colorful ad campaign and their street team tactics are highly progressive, but a portion of their online strategy is fixated on instilling fear in teens and smokers. The campaign has every right to shed a negative light on the act of smoking, but mocking and scaring users may not be the most effective way of doing so. A negative ad campaign doesn’t sit well with an organization fixated on community engagement and enlightenment.
What They’re Doing Well
Truth’s main tactic is informative marketing, and in order to create a community online, they rely on their “Truth Tour Riders.” Tour Riders are individuals in their early 20s (you have to be over 21 to apply) who aim to rally support at music festivals, sporting events and wherever else they can set up and spread their message. By asking teens to get the attention of their peers, the campaign empowers the younger generation to make change for itself.
This campaign is not particularly revolutionary or innovative in its attempts to appeal to a younger audience, but it is useful when competing with popular celebrities like Miley Cyrus, who continue to promote cannabis use. There are two aspects of their marketing that are particularly effective. The first is their use of the bright orange “Truth” truck, free merchandise, loud music and young individuals to spread their message. The second is their online marketing platform, which consists of infographics, informative videos, and both company-generated and user-generated memes. The company has the right idea by targeting a younger audience; what they need to do now is practice what they preach and teach our youth to adopt a healthy lifestyle in a respectful, positive way.
We know the Truth campaign’s intentions, but if its actions remain negative and focus on shaming individuals, then it isn’t going to effectively stop teens from smoking. We need to come up with ways that encourage healthier lifestyles without ostracizing those who currently smoke. The Truth campaign’s heart seems to be in the right place, but only by taking to heart the many slogans that adorn their website can they hope to create lasting, meaningful change.