Cannes Lions


KETCHUM, New York / LEGACY / 2015


1 Shortlisted Cannes Lions
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Presentation Image
Case Film






Truth is the nation’s most successful youth smoking prevention campaign. As a result of its provocative ads on the dangers of smoking and deceptions of the tobacco industry, only 9% of U.S. teens smoked in 2014, down from 23% in 2000.

Problem solved? Not even close. If trends continue, millions of teens alive today will die prematurely as a result of a smoking related illness. A new generation of 15- to 21-year-olds believed themselves invincible and mistrusted the media. Reaching this audience was literally a matter of life and death.

In 2014, the truth team set out to finish the job it started. Scare tactics were old school. So we gave today’s teenagers what they really crave. Power. We would show them how they and their social influencers were being used Big Tobacco, then give them to the power to change it. They could be the first tobacco-free generation in history.

We made the #FinishIt battle cry loud, dangerous and disruptive, delivering an in-your-face message in an impossible-to-miss moment. Truth hijacked the notoriously controversial MTV Video Music Awards with “Unpaid Spokesperson,” a TV spot and YouTube video that branded teen-friendly celebrities including Orlando Bloom, Kristen Stewart and Rihanna as UNPAID TOBACCO SPOKESPERSONS for the world to see, knowing some of these celebs were sitting live in the VMA audience. Then we orchestrated the controversy that followed, using the firestorm of publicity to reintroduce the issue to America, and ignite a fresh and significant drop in teen smoking.


In daring fashion, the TV spot and YouTube video “Unpaid Spokesperson” put a glaring spotlight on the free marketing tobacco companies receive when celebrity smokers like Robert Pattinson, Zayn Malik, Rihanna and Lady Gaga are photographed with cigarettes. Debuted during the commercial break of the VMA Awards in 2014, “Unpaid Spokesperson” courted controversy with some celebrities sitting directly in the audience. We immediately followed with our own “Response” video, anticipating that Unpaid Spokesperson might have “pissed off a few lawyers.”

If running the ad spot at the VMAs was the “match;” PR was the gasoline. While the video went viral, we broke the story with leading national news, entertainment, teen, advertising and marketing, music, radio and Hispanic media. Our YouTube Takeover the night of the VMAs earned “unpaid” 1.2 million views within the first 24 hours. Wherever people stood on the daring approach, the last word was our empowering #FinishIt hashtag, enlisting teens to visit and sign on to become “the generation that ends smoking.”


“Unpaid Spokesperson” helped generate 4.8 billion earned media impressions, and spurred the public debate the issue had been missing. Good Morning America featured “Unpaid Spokesperson” in its “Pop News Heat Index” segment. ranked it among the best in its “16 best and worst moments at the VMAs,” referring to the ad as “very ballsy.” The Wall Street Journal named “Unpaid Spokesperson” the “Viral Video of the Week,” highlighting the incredible momentum the campaign has seen across online platforms. Additional media coverage came from USA Today, Entertainment Tonight, Entertainment Weekly, CBS This Morning, Access Hollywood Live, TMZ, PR Week, AdWeek and Health.

More than 36,000 visitors to added our definitive non-smoker “X” to their profile pic and took the pledge to become the generation to #FinishIt. The most encouraging outcome was watching the number of current teen smokers drop 16.7% in just a year — the biggest decline in six years — potentially saving thousands of promising young lives.

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