SWOOP | Student-Managed Advertising and PR Agency

Changing Public Perception

October 4, 2017

Have you ever read an article about how an animal viciously attacked an innocent man?  Perhaps you thought, “Yah that animal is dangerous!  That animal should be euthanized!”  How about a few hours later when the story is updated?  The story evolves and new information is released, new information that says the previously “innocent” man had been provoking the animal; kicking, yelling, throwing things at it.  Does that change your mind on how the animal should be handled?  What if you hadn’t ever read the second article?  This is how the media can easily change public perception.

            Now let’s talk specifically advertising.  Have you ever seen an ad that made you feel a certain way, good or bad?  A perfect example of a successful marketing campaign is Truth.  This campaign launched in 2000 and brought the scary effects of smoking to the forefront of consumer’s minds.  We all know that smoking has negative effects and that we probably shouldn’t be lighting up, but many Americans do it anyways.  Scare tactics don’t seem to work, threats don’t seem to work but once that “smoker’s cough” turns to lung cancer, it’s too late to take back that first cigarette.

            According to Ad Age, the Truth campaign brought the anti-smoking fight to big tobacco’s doorstep.  Instead of taking the higher road or waving fingers at smokers, it made it cool to rebel against smoking.  Pete Favat, executive creative director on the campaign says, “The idea for ‘Truth’ was to push against the lies of big tobacco.”  The reason this campaign took off and was able to change public perception wasn’t because it scared people, it revealed the truth behind smoking.  The Truth campaign features numerous TV and radio spots, public stunts, college tours, concert visits and print elements.  Perhaps their most notable stretch was the “Body Bags” stunt in which they filled 1,200 body bags to represent the 1,200 deaths big tobacco could be responsible for each day.  The Truth campaign did this in front of a major tobacco corporation office It caused public outrage, lawsuits and settlements, though it gained national attention.

            Truth has gained momentum and has benefitted from using iconic spokespeople to bring the truth about smoking to life.  According to John Boiler, founder and CEO of 72andSunny said, “It changed culture by reducing smoking to now only 10% of the demographic and making it possible to end smoking within the life of a generation we now live in.”  It is estimated that Truth has prevented 500,000 Americans a year from smoking, something that no other anti-smoking campaign can claim.

            The power of the media is often used with a negative connotation, “Fake News” is more widely criticized than positive media is rewarded.  However, by consuming the facts and avoiding the false articles, media and advertising can change the world for the better.  It’s all about becoming media literate, being aware of how to identify fake news and constantly seeking the truth. We all know smoking is bad, we all know it causes cancer and we all know of its other harmful effects, but why was there no significant decline in smoking until this campaign?  It’s because the right advertising has the ability to change public perception.  Not through fear or threats, but by the truth. 

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