Cannes Lions


KETCHUM, San Francisco / LEGACY / 2015

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Case Film
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It’s a frightening fact: tobacco remains the #1 cause of preventable death in America. If trends continue, millions of teens alive today will die prematurely as a result of a smoking-related illness.

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 showed them how they and their social influencers were being used by Big Tobacco, then gave them to the power to change it. They could be the first tobacco-free generation in history.

We got loud, dangerous and disruptive, hijacking the MTV Video Music Awards with “Unpaid Spokesperson,” a TV spot and YouTube video that branded young celebrities including Orlando Bloom, Kristen Stewart and Rihanna as UNPAID TOBACCO SPOKESPERSON for the world to see. Then we orchestrated the controversy that followed, using the firestorm of publicity to reintroduce the issue to America, and helping fuel a 16.7% drop in teen smoking, the biggest decline in six years.


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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