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5 Min Read

This Is Not Don Draper’s Tobacco Ad



  • Personal stories can make messaging more relatable, reinforcing the ideas behind outreach efforts.
  • When possible, engage local media – doing so will spread your message to a wider array of stakeholders and communities. 
  • Know your audience, and speak to them in ways that will stick. A targeted campaign will resonate longer than a generic one.

From San Diego to San Antonio, Boise to Boston – if it’s summer, a big orange truck and a dynamic crew of young people are likely coming your way.

truth is the nation’s largest grassroots youth smoking prevention campaign. We’ve been around since 2000 and our campaign has proven effective in helping drive down teen smoking rates Through advertising, branded entertainment, social media, events, and other public education efforts, we shine a light on the health and social consequences of tobacco use, and the marketing tactics of the tobacco industry. How do we do this? In a non-preachy, peer-to-peer way – giving teens and young people facts and information and then letting them make their own informed choices about tobacco use. Tobacco use continues to be a concern – every day, about 1,000 youth in the US become daily smokers. So it’s important that campaigns and programs like truth take place at the national and local levels to keep this issue on the radar.

Throughout our history, one of our signature programs has been a national grassroots tour that travels the country each summer, reaching hundreds of thousands of teens and young people on the ground at popular music, gaming, and sporting events.  From more than a decade of touring, we’ve learned a few things about how best to reach your target audience, and how to then extend efforts on the ground toward media outreach. Here are some ‘lessons learned’ that are applicable to other cause-related programs:


Memory-Making: Tour stops feature a distinctive orange truck, a dance floor, a DJ, and a crew of young people that interact with teens and educate them – subtly – about tobacco use and tobacco industry tactics. Our crew members play games with the crowd, sing and dance, have one-on-one conversations, and give out prizes – truth-branded ‘gear’ like t-shirts, hats and flip-flops – all containing tobacco facts. Oftentimes through our crew on the ground, or online through our social media presence, we hear about ‘memories’ that were created in the zone or the positive impact a day on tour or an individual tour rider had on a teen. Providing a platform to create tangible, fun experiences is something we know works. We draw people into our truth ‘zone’ through games and fun, as an entrée to our educational messages. While advertising and other broader outreach efforts may reach a wider group of teens, these personal, one-on-one interactions work to reinforce messages and offer a unique experience, distinct to each individual that truth encounters.

Take It ‘Personally’: With tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases, some facts and statistics resonate with teens more than others, but young people also have a sense of immortality and daring that makes grim statistics about the toll of tobacco use less likely to be relatable. Personal stories surely drive information home. Our tour riders share their own personal stories around tobacco use; even if they’ve never smoked themselves, many have family members of friends who may have smoked or struggled with tobacco-related diseases. Sharing these stories with their peers, and listening back as teens share their own stories, extends the conversation in a vivid way. Media outlets also relate to this personal style of storytelling and often highlight a crew member’s ‘personal story’ in their coverage or during interviews.


Think Local: The tour typically reaches about 25 states and more than 50 cities each summer. Our crew is also geographically diverse: this year’s crew features tour riders from California, Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri, New York and Pennsylvania – among other states. A national tour likes this allows us the opportunity to spread ‘tentacles’ across the country. We reach out to local media at every tour stop, likening the event to a special occasion and a way to connect with local youth. truth’s presence in a city is a way to have a local hook to reach out to stakeholders, media, and the general public in those communities – further spreading our public education message.

‘Fun’ Factor:  Every year, we are focused on providing the best possible experience in the truth zone. We want the zone to be a ‘go-to’ destination, where teens stay and play – and learn something during the process. Every year we assess the zone experience and make sure the activities, games, and dialogue employed in the zone are still making their mark with young people. For those of us publicizing and working to extend those efforts through media and public relations efforts, we also take notice of the fun involved. Promoting the tour starts well in advance of our typical June launch timeframe, and during the summer months it’s an intense day-to-day effort juggling many balls. But seeing our inspiring crew in action and promoting cool events like the Vans Warped Tour, US Open of Surfing, or a gaming convention – allows us the opportunity to learn about other industries, interact with other practitioners and get exposed to different ways of thinking. It inspires us and contributes to our sense of fun – all summer long.

Patricia McLaughlin is Associate Vice President of Communications at Legacy for Health. Follow Legacy on Twitter @LegacyForHealth.


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