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Research Article Research Article

Using pop culture to end tobacco for good

To keep up with digitally savvy youth, truth® constantly develops strategies to ensure the campaign is culturally relevant and connecting with young people at the right places and times. Now, new research is proving the effectiveness of one of those strategies: leveraging televised pop culture events (like the Grammys and MTV Video Music Awards) to premiere ads that create buzz and drive extended conversations around tobacco.

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Truth Initiative® researchers conducted surveys to a nationally representative sample of youth and young adults and used social media data from Twitter and YouTube to examine whether premiering ads during a popular televised event is associated with higher truth ad and brand awareness and increased online engagement.

The study, published in the Journal of Health Communication, found that those who reported seeing an event had 174 percent greater odds of being aware of any truth ad and 83 percent greater odds of engaging with truthonline, compared with those who did not see an event. The findings also indicate that levels of social media engagement during a televised event period are greater than during a non-televised event period.

“Mass media campaigns, like truth, can leverage the popularity of televised events to effectively deliver messages and disseminate information to a broad audience of youth and young adults,” said Elizabeth Hair, lead author of the study and vice president of Evaluation Science and Research at Truth Initiative. “This study provides evidence of the impact of this strategy, with advertisements designed to prompt changes in health-related attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.”

To increase the reach of the campaign, truth also utilizes a variety of media channels—including TV, digital and social media platforms—that are tailored to the campaign’s target audience, which research shows can be effective with message delivery and behavior change.

truth’s success is based on changing youth’s attitudes toward smoking by tapping into their enormous social influence and motivating them to band together to become the generation that ends smoking. The campaign’s impact has been proven through research and industry recognition. For example:

  • truth was credited with keeping 450,000 teens from starting to smoke in just the first four years of the campaign.
  • Teens aware of truth are twice as likely to say they do not intend to smoke in the future.
  • Over 15 years, truth has earned more than 400 awards for excellence and effectiveness; most recently from the 2017 North American Effie Awards, where truth took home a gold Effie Award in the “Influencers” category for its #CATmageddon campaign and a silver Effie Award in the “Disease Awareness & Education: Advocacy” category for its Finishers 2.0 campaign.

The best proof of truth’s effectiveness, however, is the slashed youth smoking rate, which dropped to a record low of 6 percent in 2016. As tobacco use patterns shift and new products emerge, evidence-based public education campaigns, like truth, will continue to play a lead role in raising awareness and knowledge of tobacco, helping prevent initiation of tobacco use and reducing prevalence among youth and young adults and shifting tobacco-related attitudes, norms, intentions and behaviors.