September 12, 2011

Applying Account Planning to Smoking Cessation: The NHS Smokefree Campaign

Next week the authors of the short listed papers for the UK’s Account Planning Group’s (APG) Creative Strategy Awards will be presented to the judges.  We’d like to cast an early vote for the National Health Service Smokefree Campaign.  Here are a couple of reasons:

It challenged conventional wisdom.  Both in the UK and the US, many seem to think that smokers still aren’t aware that smoking cases death.  Hence the now conventional strategy to affect long-term smoking behavior is to shock people into understanding and knowledge with graphic images depicting the ramifications of smoking.  The NHS broke out of this mold.  They looked around at the many “quit websites,” graphic images on cigarette packs, and anti-smoking public service announcements and realized there is something missing: 8 million people in the UK still smoke!  They then asked the question, why?

It based the strategic communications approach on in-depth researchA recent article by the Boston Consulting Group [1] reiterates how important research is to develop the “brand benefit ladder.”  In sum, it’s important not to address people about the technical and functional facts of smoke; smoking leads to cancer and possible death.  It is important to address people based on their emotional needs and the inter-related and complex factors that drive human behavior.  The NHS conducted in-depth audience research with UK smokers to identify a unifying “value,” digging deep to understand unconscious motivators, barriers and emotional triggers associated with their long-term smoking behaviors.

It translated research findings into an “ah-ha” moment and messaging.  Very similar to Noral’s findings for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Parents Speak Up National Campaign, NHS strategically analyzed research and found a breakthrough based on the strong bond parents naturally feel for their children.  With so many pressing matters in life to handle, smokers felt smoking was one of those small pleasures in life that they just weren’t willing to give up; they were able to dismiss the long term risks as hypothetical.  And as a result they could also dismiss the conventional fear-based/awareness messages.  However, the research showed a way to replace the pleasure and reward they felt  from smoking with an even more powerful emotional benefit: the desire to have their children be happy and to provide for their children.  And for that they need to stop smoking.  The NHS took a strategic leap to avoid the conventional wisdom and tap into the emotional trigger — real kids speaking for themselves, to their parents.

So, drum roll please! The winner of the APG awards should well be the Smokefree Campaign.  But if it’s not, there are plenty of winners among all those parents whose long-term smoking habits are likely to be affected.  And for that we applaud!


[1] Bolden, D., Mel-Pochtler, A., Sajdeh, R., Barrios, G., George, E., Melker, K, Taskiran, D. (2011) Brand-centric transformation:  Balancing art and data. Retrieved from:


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