Effective Counter-Advertisements

Question of the Month
February 2002

Some groups in the U.S. have used the tobacco industry's outrageous practices abroad in their counter-advertising efforts. Last month, for example, the Florida Department of Health unveiled a new series of "Truth" ads based on Philip Morris's activities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Three of the ads feature a classroom full of Marlboro Men learning how to say "Welcome to Marlboro Country" in Spanish, Swahili, and Mandarin Chinese. A fourth ad exposes why Philip Morris voluntarily removed its advertising in Senegal, West Africa in 1998. For more information, see below.

This month we want to tap into your ideas for countering the nasty things that Big Tobacco is up to around the world.

Question: Do you have any good examples of (or ideas for!) effective counter-advertising campaigns that expose the truth about the tobacco industry and its products and/or shift public opinion in favor of a certain tobacco control measure?

In order to be as inclusive as possible, we are defining "counter-advertising" very broadly -- a theatrical piece parodying Big Tobacco performed by students and aired by local television on World No Tobacco Day, a poster hung in a medical clinic for patients to see, stickers that when placed on tobacco advertisements turn them into anti-tobacco messages, a humorous radio public service announcement...use your imagination!

We are particularly interested in:

  • Creative, low cost methods and strategies for reaching specific target audiences
  • Ideas based on international examples and themes
  • Culture-specific examples that U.S. groups working with immigrant communities may find useful

As usual, pose this question to your partner and share your answers with Essential Action.

For some examples to get you going, please see below.



Florida Department of Health, Division of Health Awareness and Tobacco Tracks Tobacco Cowboy Around the World to Make a Point with Teens

(Tallahassee, FL)-- "Venga a la tierra de Marlboro," says a teacher. "Repeat after me."

"Come to Marlboro Country," the cowboys respond -- in Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and Swahili.

The mock language classes appear in a series of new Florida "truth" commercials that aim to raise awareness of tobacco industry practices abroad.

Some of the tobacco marketing practices now banned in the U.S. have continued to be used all over the world, including the mailing of promotional items to children, placing billboards near schools and advertising tobacco without warning labels. As a result, tobacco use is growing at alarming rates worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that tobacco use will kill 10 million people annually by 2030.

The newest "truth" advertising campaign also features a commercial set in Senegal, Africa, where Marlboro cigarette billboards were taken down during a 1998 U.S. presidential visit -- only to go right back up after the President left.*

NOTE: If you would like a copy of the new ads, please email [email protected] and indicate whether you need a PAL or VHS version

* For more information about how Philip Morris "hid" the Marlboro Man from the U.S. President see

Remember the outrageous report that Philip Morris released in the Czech Republic last year? The American Legacy Foundation, American Cancer Society, and Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids created a full-page advertisement based on it, featuring a corpse with a toe-tag that reads "$1227 - that's how much a study by Philip Morris said that the Czech Republic saves on healthcare, pensions, and housing every time a smoker dies."

Philip Morris says that smoking should be an "option" in restaurants and that separate seating and high-tech ventilation systems will do the trick. This wonderful ad from Scandinavia underlines how ludicrous an argument this is -- a non-smoking section in a restaurant is like a non-urinating section in a public pool! http://www.essentialaction.org/tobacco/qofm/0202/pissinapool.pdf