Where there’s smoke, there’s e-fire

The pioneering approach taken by the Ministry of Health for its National Depression Initiative proved to be something of a watershed for online social messaging and health communications in New Zealand. And the efforts of Wellington-based agency Resn have shown that the interactivity offered by the online realm is also proving to be an effective way of spreading the Smokefree/Auahi Kore message to Kiwi yoof. 

Resn’s most recent effort, Kanvas, a free online collage art game where players can select from a range of images and words to create designs that express their own views on smoking, was custom developed for the Health Sponsorship Council (HSC), the government agency behind the Smoking Not Our Future initiative that uses celebrities to tell Kiwis between the ages of 12 and 24 about the perils of smoking—both in terms of health and, perhaps more powerfully, reduced social cachet.

“The idea was to let a discerning youth audience create their own creative message and give them the freedom to tell it how they see it. I believe that youth appreciate being allowed honesty and ownership of voice instead of traditional advertising messages,” Resn’s creative director, Steve Le Marquand says.

Since its launch earlier this year, Kanvas has attracted more than 20,000 players, with users spending an average of just under five minutes playing with the art tool. Users who complete a design can then contribute their artwork to the Kanvas Gallery and share their designs via social media channels.

Resn’s senior digital strategist, Andy Williams, believes Kanvas shows the HSC’s dynamicity in trying to communicate with an audience bombarded with other traditional advertising media. And he says it’s also good to see a government agency trying to understand its audience by using the realm where they spend much of their time.

“To give anyone the opportunity to create is very rewarding but to have people creating unique artwork with a strong anti-smoking message is even better.”

Resn, which has been raking in the awards recently and has also been doing quite a bit of international work with big global brands and ad agencies, also developed the website for Smoking Not Our Future, which has attracted over 132,000 unique visitors over the last six months (Wellington-based Base Two is the creative agency responsible for implementing the non-online aspects of the Smoking Not Our Future campaign).

The site is complemented by a Facebook page with more than 23,000 fans and a newly launched Twitter feed and it also includes two earlier and very successful online games. The first, Kiss Off, an interactive kissing ability game that reinforces the anti-social aspects of smoking, has attracted a massive 14 million local and international visitors to date (it hasn’t required any paid advertising media to promote it) and the second was Butthead Bash, which was based around an arcade style fighting game and let users select one of three Smoking Not Our Future celebrities to battle Barry, the quintessentially ‘evil’ tobacco industry executive.

A recent survey showed the teen smoking rate has dropped by 30 percent since 1999 and Susie Robertson, project manager, youth at the HSC, says this reduction can be put down to a mix of different comms approaches. She says TV commercials still perform best in terms of recall, but as communications channels have split, she says it’s about “using a multitude of ways to reach a multitude of young people”.

The graphic images on cigarette packets were thought to be one reason for the reduction, although Robertson says the ‘you’re going to die in 30 years message’ doesn’t really seem to resonate with young audiences, which is why it decided to use ‘positive’ peer pressure from the high profile Kiwis, who use their own words to say what they think about smoking, instead. Added to that, and in keeping with the current ‘branded content’ trend, where if you want to get a commercial or social message across, some value needs to be added, she says the entertaining online games have also been very successful at spreading the anti-tobacco message.

Just after the survey results were released, however, the Government announced a $12 million reduction in funding for anti-tobacco initiatives and the HSC’s budget is set to be cut by $2.5 million a year.

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