Testing tobacco control messages with a young adult audience

Testing tobacco control messages with a young adul…
01 Aug 2014

The Health Promotion Agency (HPA) commissioned TNS to investigate advertisements with tobacco denormalisation and health consequence themes as part of the formative research for its new tobacco control campaign aimed at young adults. Advertisements with those themes were chosen for testing because they have been shown to be effective for youth and adult audiences in overseas jurisdictions.


The research has been undertaken to identify the effectiveness of a set of overseas quit-smoking ads and to understand how the creative elements within these are likely to resonate with a New Zealand audience.


  • The project comprised two distinct phases: a large scale quantitative evaluation using an online methodology and a qualitative investigation that included the use of eye-tracking technology to help understand the creative elements of the advertisements
  • Once the questionnaire for the quantitative phase had been developed it was subjected to cognitive testing with five respondents from the target audience. This involved one-on-one interviews with a senior researcher to ensure that the questionnaire was free of ambiguity and that respondents were able to accurately formulate responses to the various questions
  • A randomisation schedule was developed for the eight ads in the online survey such that each respondent would be required to evaluate a total of three ads: one ‘health consequence’ ad and two ‘denormalisation’ ads. The randomisation ensured approximately equal exposure to the six denormalisation ads and two health consequence ads and was designed to ensure that the order of the ads was rotated so each was also seen in the same position approximately an equal number of times
  • Data collection for the quantitative phase was undertaken between 6 September and 13 October 2013 with a total of 1082 completed responses. An interim dataset was extracted and analysed on 17 September 2013 to provide input into the qualitative phase. As part of this analysis it was determined that two ads were very ineffectual and these were removed from the qualitative investigation: ‘Stop Me’ and ‘Target’
  • The qualitative phase involved one-on-one interviews with twenty young smokers aged between 18 and 24 years. Those recruited were equally divided between Māri and non-Māri and by gender. Interviews included an experiment where respondents had their eye movements recorded as they watched each ad. The series of six remaining ads were played to each respondent consecutively prior to commencing the interview. The order of the six ads was based on a balanced design so that ads were viewed in the same location an equal number of times by each ethnic group and gender. The eye-tracking data was then used to fully probe responses and emotional outcomes for each ad.

Key Results

The points below summarise the three main areas we addressed and conclusions

  1. Understanding young smokers: Young smokers are different from older smokers in their behaviours and motivations. Young smokers smoke less than older smokers and feel more able to quit smoking. However unlike older smokers they are not motivated by future health concerns and are much more concerned about the opinions of their friends and the effect that their smoking has on others
  2. Ad effectiveness: The eight ads that we assessed differed in their ability to generate interest, to motivate, and appeal to young adults. Debi Austin was the most effective ad generating both interest and motivation, followed closely by What If Girl. Evil guy, Which is Uglier and 1200 were seen as interesting, but had very little motivational impact. Bubblewrap scored averagely on all measures; it was loved by some but hated by others. Target and Stop Me were largely unsuccessful on all measures 3
  3. What works: The four key elements that the more successful smoking ads have in common are: an indicator that health damage is highly likely, either through the threat of immediate impact or through the believability of the ad; the negative social connotations of smoking; a message that is relevant with relatable characters; and an element of shock or novelty. Ads that are too fast, complicated or confusing lose interest, while ads that are excessively gory create disbelief and are likely to be ignored
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