That was the topic of the graduate research project I mentored this year. It didn’t work out as well as I expected, but I had to go though a pretty large corpus of anti-tobacco ads collected by the student, and what struck me was how bad they were as compared with commercial advertising that I usually study. Aside from the experience in persuasive communication research, I am a former smoker who spent many years openly defending the addiction and secretly trying to quit, so I think I ought to know what is going to work and what isn’t. None of those would.
As a matter of fact, there wasn’t a single ad that would have made me as much as consider quitting back when. Some of them were beautiful. Works of visual art that sort of made me nostalgic about the time I spent hours admiring the smoke floating in the air. There were a handful of ads that were targeted against exposing children to second-hand smoke, and those were good. I would have probably stopped smoking in the same room with the kids… oh wait; I never ever did that anyway. There were some good old scare-you-with-the-terrible-tumor-pictures stuff… and these had the most potential effect of all, only we know from experience that they don’t work, and the last person that could be scared enough by a cross-section of a smoker quit in the 1960’s.
By the way, the student who did the research is a smoker, and, having spent two semesters head over heels in these texts, still remains a smoker.
I can’t really say why it is so, but my guess is, the absence of His Majesty the Client has a pretty negative effect on quality. As usual. Oh, of course there is the client, the non-profit organizations that pay the money to the ad agencies to develop the ads. But, admit it, the financial well-being of the NPO doesn’t hang on the success of the ads. If the ads fail, it’s nothing but another reason to ask for more money for better ads. My own humble copywriting experience suggests that a lot of anti-tobacco and anti-drug copy is made for portfolio, by beginners who haven’t enough real orders but are willing to make something that would demonstrate their potential – and in this case, obviously, there’s no client at all. No client – at least, no seriously motivated client – means no, or little, critical approach to the texts, and that, in turn, means low quality.
No wonder nobody quits because of the ads.