Foundation's solid grasp of youth marketing trends helps it spread the Truth about smoking to teens
More than an anti-smoking campaign, the American Legacy Foundation's "Truth" effort has become a brand in its own right.
Past Truth ads have peeled away the layers of tobacco companies' marketing tactics. One spot, for instance, questioned the altruism of a company that spent $21 million publicizing a $125,000 charitable donation. Another featured orange arrows branding unsuspecting people as "passive-aggressive" or "emotionally insecure," terms from the tobacco industry's own files.
But to reach teen audiences, the foundation must constantly make sure that it is keeping up with - and indeed, even getting one step ahead of - youth marketing trends and finding new ways to present the same old message: Smoking is bad for you.
Joe Martyak, EVP of marketing, communications, and public policy, stresses how Legacy strives to keep up with "the chameleon aspect" of young people. To that end, the foundation last month launched the next evolution of Truth: the "Truth documentary."
The initiative, aimed at 12- to 17-year-olds, includes materials, such as TV spots and a new Web site, www.whadufxup.com, that show Gen Y types reacting to the language and marketing tactics tobacco companies use to attract and keep teens as smokers (see Launch Pad, PRWeek, May 29).
"When we go out with information, it's well-founded, it's well-sourced. It's our modus operandi," Martyak says. He adds that research, legal, and programming teams work closely together. "It's all integrated communications. It's really synergistic among those three."
Legacy is also using the same technology as teens. In February, for instance, it incorporated elements of the Truth campaign into video games. It is also looking at how it can use new media and text messages.
An annual summer Truth tour - which Legacy is bringing this year to about 58 cities - is a key component of its outreach. In addition to working with local media, the PR team also plans to pitch teen magazines on the gear that will be given out during the events. The idea is to get teens to see Truth as a hot brand before the tour hits town. The tour reached over 800,000 teens last year.
Martyak notes that Truth is recognized by 80% of teens and is one of the 10 most memorable teen brands. It also has an underground quality. "A lot of parents do not even know what Truth is," he explains.
But Legacy doesn't try to be all things to all teens. "We focus most narrowly on teens who are most likely to smoke," he says.
Legacy works with agencies that target what it calls "priority populations," which focus on audiences of different ethnicities or sexual orientations, for example.
"The Truth effort has been the envy of the entire public health community," says Greg Donaldson, national communications VP at the American Cancer Society (ACS). "[It's] very relevant, very contemporary."
"They are a very sophisticated, well-oiled machine," says Laurie Fenton, president of the Lung Cancer Alliance. "The challenge is overcoming the perception that smoking is sexy and cool. [Truth] is just a very powerful, provocative campaign."
While Truth is a youth brand, Legacy has also built cessation programs. "Though we don't talk to parents specifically, we do talk to adults," says Patricia McLaughlin, senior director of communications.
Although Legacy had always led with the Truth brand in the past, it is now working to promote the parent brand to the media and policymakers.
The organization has a unique history. It was founded in 1999 as a result of the Master Settlement Agreement between the tobacco industry and 46 state attorneys general. A provision called for tobacco companies to fund youth anti-smoking programs.
The group received its last payment in 2003 and has been challenged to raise its own funds. It is also engaged in a four-year legal battle with Lorillard Tobacco Co., which has argued that Legacy's ads attack the company and its employees.
Final appeals are currently being heard in front of the Delaware Supreme Court.
"If Lorillard were to win, that would basically shut our doors," says Julia Cartwright, SVP of communications. "Every time we can get [reporters] to get some of this information out - well-placed and accurate - that's a milestone, as far as I'm concerned."
Legacy doesn't lobby, but policy changes on the Hill certainly shape its message. "We collaborate on an ongoing basis," says ACS' Donaldson. "We understand that the fight against tobacco is a multifaceted effort."
Legacy worked recently with state attorneys general to announce that US cigarette sales have decreased - which resulted in stories above the fold in The Washington Post and The New York Times.
"PR is critical for the public understanding of what we do," Martyak says.
AT A GLANCE
Company: American Legacy Foundation
CEO: Cheryl Healton
Headquarters: Washington, DC
Revenues/latest figures: $151,411 for fiscal year ended June 30, 2005
Similar organizations: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Partnership for a Drug-Free America
Key Trade Publications: Advertising Age, The Non-Profit Times
Marketing budget: Undisclosed
EVP of marketing, communications, and public policy, Joe Martyak
SVP of communications, Julia Cartwright
Senior director of communications, Patricia McLaughlin
Marketing Services Agencies:
PR: GolinHarris and The Ad*itive
Advertising: The Ad Council, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Arnold Worldwide