Department of Health persuades smokers to quit


The Challenge

Smoking is still the biggest cause of preventable death in the UK with 50% of long-term smokers dying from smoking-related diseases. The hardest to influence audience has been Routine & Manual (blue collar) workers. Smoking prevalence is highest amongst this group and they are surrounded by other smokers normalising their behaviour, making quitting harder. Audience research demonstrated that future health problems were too far removed from their day to day lives, making it easy to dismiss them.

The challenge for the Department of Health’s Smokefree campaign was to demonstrate the harm that smoking causes right here, right now. Research uncovered the importance of the family for this target audience, and the insight that the psychological harm smoking has on their children is a powerful motivator to make routine and manual smokers consider quitting.

The objective was to provide the motivation to quit smoking by shifting smokers’ attitudes about the effects of smoking on their children as well as creating impact to ensure the message cuts through.

The TV Solution

TV is the most important medium for R&M households, as evenings are spent together in the living room. TV also provided the opportunity for emotive and direct communication. The aim of the Smokefree Generation campaign was to jolt parents out of their comfort zone and force them to reflect on the impact their smoking has on their children. By ‘disrupting the routine’ and hitting the target audience in times and places where they would be most attentive, the message would be most powerful.

For the first time ever, contextual advertising referencing specific programming was created. This aimed to serve the advertising messages directly to the viewer, therefore nudging smokers out of their comfort zone. Using Touchpoints it was possible to identify TV consumption and relaxation mapped by time. TV viewing peaked around evening soaps on ITV. Coronation Street and Emmerdale are the two biggest soaps on ITV1 and were identified as ‘must-see TV’ programmes viewed by the family (21% of R&Ms would not want to miss one or other. Source TNS BMRB).

Ten executions were created using real children of smokers in the target audience. No scripts were used so the words of the children were genuine messages to their parents. For the first time on TV, the creative executions referenced the soaps they were watching with the children asking for the viewers’ attention with lines such as: “Hey Mum, I know you’re watching Corrie […] can you stop smoking”. 

MEC handled the media planning for this campaign and bought 76 spots across ITV1 in Coronation Street and Emmerdale across a seven week period. In addition, more generic spots were bought on Living TV. MEC also chose to buy into the soaps channel on with pre-rolls before the content.

The campaign was supported by similar activity in press, on radio, outdoor and online.


  • In the first month of the campaign 83% of the target audience recognised the campaign rising to 90% in the second month.
  • The campaign caused the attitudinal tracking measure of ‘These ads made me think more deeply about the impact of smoking on my family and my loved ones’ to rise to 68% from 64% for the previous campaign (Worried, April 2009). This was highest amongst parents with children under ten (73%).
  • The measure ‘these ads made me feel uncomfortable about smoking’ also reached a new peak of 67% rising from 55% for the previous campaign.
  • Not only did the campaign substantially shift attitudes around the effect of smoking on loved ones, the campaign also provided the motivation to stop smoking. 54% of the target audience agreed ‘these ads made me think I should stop putting it off and stop smoking now’ – a rise of 5 percentage points from the previous campaign and the highest motivation level reached since 2006.
  • 55% said the adverts are likely to make them stop smoking; the highest ever score for a Tobacco Control campaign – rising from 38% for the previous campaign.
  • The TV element of the campaign resulted in a record 2,101 (Source: COI/Artemis) calls being made to the NHS Smoking Helpline (driven by a motivation campaign).
  • The TV cost per response of this campaign was less than a third of the previous best performing campaign (Source: Artemis).

The Smokefree Generation campaign successfully managed to engage our audience with the message that smoking is the enemy of the family. Integration between our creative and communications planning agencies to deliver an innovative solution has helped make strides towards our long term goal of reducing smoking prevalence of Routine and Manual Workers in England

Paul Brewer,  Head of Marketing, Tobacco Control, Change4Life & Alcohol


Sector: Public awareness

Brand: NHS Smokefree, Department of Health

Campaign objectives: To motivate routine and manual smokers to quit smoking for the benefit of their children

Target Audience: All adults, Routine & Manual workers

Budget: £1.5m

Campaign Dates: The campaign started on 14th September 2009 and ran for 7 weeks with an upweight in Coronation Street and Emmerdale

TV Usage: 30 second ads

Creative Agency: MCBD

Media Agency:  MEC

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