I’m heading out to Colorado this week to speak at UC Boulder and also to visit Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the remarkable ad agency that started out in Miami and now has a thriving business in Boulder. Readers of Glimmer will recall that CP+B was the force behind a radical marketing campaign that used design thinking to tackle the problem of teen smoking in Florida…
The agency took on this challenge in the late 1990s, when CP+B was still a small Miami agency and its creative director, Alex Bogusky, was a young long-haired motorbike racer. Bogusky and his creative team were tasked with the Herculean challenge of trying to get teenagers to behave in their own best interests. The problem was that in the state of Florida, teen smoking rates had been rising steadily and the state’s health department wasn’t sure what to do. Traditional advertising appeals—ads saying, basically, It’ll kill ya, kids—were not working. The designer in Bogusky immediately started asking stupid questions, such as: Why don’t teenagers care about the possibility of dying? And if they don’t care about that, what do they care about?
Bogusky’s team did a deep dive on the streets of Miami, hanging out with teens, documenting everything with video cameras. The agency also pored through teen psychology literature and studied ad campaigns, both for and against cigarettes. There were some interesting epiphanies, including this quite disturbing one: “One of the things we realized,” Bogusky says, “was that if you actually set out to design a dream product to market to teenagers, you couldn’t come up with anything more effective than a Marlboro cigarette.”
That’s because the product tapped into 1) a teenager’s need to establish an identity; 2) the desire to be associated with distinctive brands; 3) the urge to rebel; and even 4) the normal adolescent eagerness to take physical risks and confront danger. In this context, the danger associated with smoking actually made it “sexier.”
So if they didn’t care about dying, what did they care about? Bogusky’s researchers watched and listened and came up with this answer: They cared about being manipulated, taken advantage of, “played.” This led to Bogusky’s glimmer moment: Why not take all that pent-up teen angst and direct it against the shady sales tactics employed by the tobacco industry? Why not turn that industry’s own marketing muscle against itself?
Bogusky created a brand name, “Truth,” and designed a logo with Helvetica type inside an oval. Then his agency launched what was not so much an ad campaign as a popular movement—fueled by various designed tchotchkes including leaflets, fliers, stickers, hats, and buttons, distributed at concerts and other teen events. The campaign also disseminated information about the misdeeds of cigarette makers, citing examples of cover-ups, phony ad claims, and outright lies. Bogusky staged pranks, such as having teenagers show up at tobacco company headquarters with bullhorns and bodybags.
The Truth campaign was extremely cost-efficient because in many cases, the kids who got caught up in it carried the message to others, for free. The whole thing spread like wildfire throughout Florida, and by 2002, five years into the campaign, smoking among middle and high school students in Florida declined an average of 38 percent.
Following on the success of the Truth campaign, a number of major brands—MINI Cooper, Coca Cola, Burger King, and others—began to beat a path to Bogusky’s door and CP+B became the fastest-growing agency around.
Some of Bogusky’s ideas on design and advertising are nicely captured in a new book, Baked In, which Alex co-authored with John Winsor. Looking forward to seeing Alex and finding out what new problems he's trying to crack these days.
No related posts, but check around GlimmerSite for lots of other interesting articles.
The ability of designers to just begin, and begin anywhere, is critical—and it’s something we can all learn from. What helps designers move forward in the face of uncertainty is a step-by-step methodology….