Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thank you for smoking...more.

"If I asked my customers what they wanted, I would have made a faster horse"  - Henry Ford

The attached photo is an example of the fear tactics used by most of the world to "stop teen smoking". Australia, for one reason or another seems to use pretty extreme imagery in comparison to other countries I've lived in. 

I experienced a bit of culture shock when I walked into my first Sydney liquor store to find these graphic images of disease on cigarette boxes. My shock almost immediately turned to laughter, as I watched a barely 18 year old girl instruct the cashier to give her the box of ciggies with the heart disease photo instead of the mouth cancer photo. I ALMOST forgot how durable and adaptable I was when I was 18. 

This experience was fresh in my mind when I recently read a book by Martin Lindstrom called Buy-ology. The book is awesome! Martin Lindstrom who is an absolute, baby faced, Danish born, Sydney residing - BAD ASS describes a series of experiments conducted via neuro testing that validate what Henry Ford, and most of us have already concluded - people don't always know what motivates least not in a focus group environment.

The experiment that is most relevant to the fluffy artery in the photo above, was the graphic anti-smoking images test. Martin showed a room full of smokers very graphic images, not dissimilar to the photos that now exist on all Australian cigarette boxes and asked if these images would make them less likely to smoke. 

The vast majority answered with some form of strong YES. He then conducted the exact same test, BUT had the respondents brains connected to an FMRI machine. 

Here's the crazy part - not only did Martin prove that these images would NOT stop people from smoking, he proved that graphic images of disease actually made people smoke more! 

Now, let's overlay one of the very first human truths learned from a year 2 Social psychology class: People are more motivated by the idea of losing something, than the idea of gaining that very same thing. 

So, I could argue that telling young people what they will GAIN by smoking (disease) has been proven to NOT be as powerful as telling them what they may LOSE. So what loss would motivate young people to stop?  

If you buy into Erik Eriksons psychosocial development theory (8 ages of man), you will agree that younger people are in a life stage where they are as focused on "self identity"as babies are on eating and pooping - it's why Erikson theorised every single generation of teen rebels against authority (Gen Y's rebellion is much less of the James Dean variety, but in Ron Alsop's book The Trophy Kids grow up he validates that the millennials still seek self identity via - rebellion without anger) . 

They want to find answers for themselves and their "chosen future families" are more important than their "given families".

If I was the Australian government, I would follow this path of logic and try to address and stop the role smoking plays on the self identity of young people.

Smoking for young people is a way of fitting in, its a way of looking cool (many would think sexy). It's an accessory for a rebellious statement. Showing disease...only validates that the rebel, is rebellious. 

Friends are your "chosen family" - massively important point. As Romeo and Juliet taught us, young people would rather die together, than live without their chosen future family.

So, what if the Australian government stopped telling young people that smoking will make you gain disease - and instead showed how it could make them lose friends.

Lose friends because:
- Smoking will make you ugly
- Smoking will give you bad breath
- Smoking makes you look stupid
- Smoking does NOT make you look rebellious anymore

All of these "losses" are immediate (the speed most preferred by youth), all happen the minute you put a cigarette to your lips, NOT decades after.

Ugly, stupid, uncool AND stinky breath?  Wow, this is is beginning to sound like the voice of a bitchy young girl right? Good! 

Young, bitchy girls are the masters of words that cut like a knife,  masters of starting or stopping friends from engaging in all kinds of behaviours. Its a voice that I strongly believe the Australian government needs to think about adopting.

With tobacco companies being responsible for the executions of their own warning labels, I can't help but wonder if maybe, just maybe this counter productive way of speaking to youth is something big tobacco understands and uses to their benefit. 


  1. Tamer! Mate, seriously brilliant read. I only wish you
    were still in LA! When are you back? Give us a bell.
    I'll facebook you my number