Legacy gives teens social tools to advocate against smoking

Legacy, the public health foundation that directs and funds the Truth campaign, is tapping into teens' online influence to stop their peers from smoking.

WASHINGTON: Legacy, the public health foundation that directs and funds the Truth campaign, is tapping into teens’ online influence to stop their peers from smoking.

The organization aired two new ads during MTV’s Video Music Awards on Sunday as part of its latest initiative, Finish It, which launched on August 11. The first spot, entitled Unpaid, shows photos of celebrities smoking and claims that the tobacco industry gets free marketing when such photos are posted. The second ad, Response, reiterates the same message – making celebrities "ambassadors for that behavior," said Julia Cartwright, SVP of communications at Legacy.

Since the VMAs, the Unpaid video has received more than 1.2 million views. Because its target audience of youth ages 15-21 is active online, Legacy is leveraging social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to promote the effort, Cartwright explained.

The campaign invites teens to show they are against smoking through their social media accounts. For example, Legacy has provided a tool called X Your Profile that enables users to place the initiative’s symbol of an orange X over their profile photos.  The Erase & Replace game lets people add humorous art to smoking pictures.

Legacy refrained from promoting the new ads ahead of the VMAs to keep them a surprise, said Lauren Mundell, SVP at Ketchum, the foundation’s PR AOR. The VMAs drew 13.7 million viewers across all airings Sunday night, according to Deadline.

"We wanted to make sure we launched this campaign with a bang," said Robin Koval, Legacy president and CEO. "We are back in a big way."

Staffers from Ketchum and Legacy’s creative agency, 72andSunny, worked through the awards show. The latter monitored social media and responded in real time, while Ketchum "watched to validate the buzz and share that with our media contacts," Mundell said. The work leading up to and during the VMAs was an "integrated effort across the board," as Ketchum collaborated with Legacy’s internal communications team and media buying agency MediaCom, Mundell added.

According to research from the University of Michigan, 9% of teenagers smoke, down from 23% in 2000.

"[Teens] have the power to be the generation that ends smoking," Koval said. "That is an amazing opportunity when you think about how hard it is to achieve social change."

Legacy’s latest campaign speaks not only to teens who smoke but also to their peers, who may be their greatest influence, she explained.

"This generation has more power, more reach, more ability to express themselves than we’ve ever seen," Koval said, adding that they are also less rebellious and more likely to "want to be for something."

However, Legacy’s efforts are "a drop in the bucket compared to the $9 billion that the tobacco industry spends on promotional activity," she said. "We are very much up against the wire."

Since the launch of Finish It earlier this month, the effort has garnered 38 million Twitter impressions, 2,631 Facebook shares, and 11,273 #FinishIT mentions, according to data provided by 72andSunny.

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