NEW YORK: In the latest issue of the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR), a team of authors from Truth Initiative make a powerful case that the proper messaging can have a meaningful effect even on addictive behavior.

Truth Initiative describes itself as "America's largest non-profit public health organization dedicated to making tobacco use a thing of the past ... through education, tobacco-control research and policy studies, [as well as] community activism and engagement."

Its research paper published in JAR – Agents of Social Change: A Model for Targeting and Engaging Generation Z across Platforms: How a Nonprofit Rebuilt an Advertising Campaign to Curb Smoking by Teens and Young Adults – begins with a simple truth: kids smoke. For decades, the obstinacy of youth in the face of overwhelming evidence of risk has puzzled healthcare specialists and marketers.

Truth Initiative's tactics – which the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF), the publisher of JAR, honored in its 2016 David Ogilvy Awards – were grounded in connecting with new audiences via peer-to-peer influencers. Its program, the authors of the JAR paper write, "delivered the facts about the health effects and social consequences of tobacco use, while exposing the marketing tactics of the tobacco industry".

And, in fact, the Gen X target audience already seems to have got the message: "'Big Tobacco' is no longer in the negative national spotlight, tobacco advertising has been restricted, and smoking has been banned in most public spaces."

But with Gen Z comes a new group of would-be smokers, and new social-media tools that provide a new means of engaging this new audience. "By broadening the new audience of Generation Z to include non-smoking youths," the authors write, the reinvented 'truth' campaign "was able to ignite enthusiasm with facts about tobacco use and tobacco industry practices.

"Messages gained further impact by creatively seizing cultural moments as vehicles for maximum reach. These efforts collectively have helped the 'truth' campaign further render the perception of smoking as an abnormal activity by creating a popular movement for youths and young adults to end tobacco use."

Data sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by Warc staff