Tobacco companies are targeting kids – we led a digital campaign that fought back.


Tobacco companies lose 8 million customers a year. Why? Because their products kill them.

Any product that loses such a huge customer base every year needs to do some pretty aggressive marketing. Tobacco products are no different. During World War 2 the tobacco industry donated cigarettes to be included in soldiers’ rations, ensnaring a whole generation of male smokers. Later, campaigns assured women their cigarettes would lead to weight loss. “When tempted to over-indulge, reach for a Lucky instead,” implored one Lucky Strike advertisement. This time, the new set of customers they’re targeting are kids.

That is why, for the time ever, WHO’s World No Tobacco Day campaign was directed at young people. Tobacco companies are targeting young people with products that are appealing to children and adolescents, such as cherry and bubble-gum flavours, and modern, attractive designs, particularly for e-cigarettes. Their advertising may be more subtle now than it was 50 years ago, but it’s just as dangerous. WHO commissioned Rooftop to run a digital campaign exposing the tobacco industry and their systematic, aggressive and manipulative marketing tactics.

To reach Generation Z, we needed a different approach. With provocative images, influencer marketing and a viral TikTok dance attracting over 21 million views, Rooftop and WHO’s #TobaccoExposed was a campaign like never before – designed to engage and empower young people in the fight against Big Tobacco.

Here’s how we did it.

Influencer marketing. 

WNTD social media post

It’s no secret that young people don’t listen to adults, they listen to their peers. We involved 12 influencers to create multilingual content across all regions. From Ukranian singer Michelle Andrade to former Indian cricketer Yuvraj Singh, our influencers were able to engage young people across interests, language and geographical area.

Together, they created 65 posts with the #TobaccoExposed hashtag across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. Vietnamese dancer Quang Dang, no stranger to engaging viral videos, created a dance video gaining 980,000 views to date. Our influencers had a potential reach of 32.2 million people across all six WHO regions.

Diverse platforms. 

Sure, our campaign used the classic platforms to reach our younger audience, with multilingual digital content on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. But we thought outside the box too. For the first time we also engaged Tinder as a partner, the mobile dating site synonymous with Millennials and Generation Z. It worked a charm, with a potential reach of 12.4 million people across five countries, France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the UK, and an impressive 9.63% engagement rate.

Viral video content. 

If you want to engage young people, viral videos are a no-brainer. For this reason, TikTok was a key part of our campaign: 10 videos were published on WHO accounts with the hashtag #TobaccoExposed, getting 121 million views and 870,000 engagements. This included the campaign video produced for the day in English, Arabic and Russian, and the viral #TobaccoExposed dance video. In total, video content received 23 million views.

The campaign was a multi-lingual, multi-platform, innovative collaboration with one clear message: now is the time to Speak Out against the tobacco industry. We believe it delivered, and our audience did too: in the weeks following

the campaign, sentiment towards the campaign hashtag, #TobaccoExposed, was 98.5% positive. Protecting a new generation of smokers is possible – and we’ve proved that digital is the best way to do it.

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