While smoking rates declined, a new threat to youth health and welfare arose: vaping. And this threat materialized quickly. In 2011, only 1.5% of high schoolers used e-cigarettes. By 2018, that number had soared to 20.8%, up 78% from the previous year. (CDC 2018) The enemy wasn't at the gates – it had already leapt over public health defenses. This was an epidemic already in motion.
Public health officials scrambled to catch up. Since vaping had so quickly infiltrated the lives of young people, there was a massive knowledge gap around the behavior – young people simply didn't know much about vaping's health risks.
Through qualitative studies, we discovered that vaping represents a gray area for youth and young adults. While they know it’s better than smoking, they don’t know much else about it and have a conscious desire to be part of this latest trend.
That's where truth could step in. With two decades experience as a youth brand that had earned the trust and love of young people, we were in a position to help prevent a new generation from getting hooked on nicotine through vaping.
Our long term objective is to prevent young people from vaping.
But to do that, we need to close the knowledge gap around vaping so young people are informed of its health risks – and avoid trying it at all. To do that, we needed them to see the facts.
In research, we heard a common refrain from young people: "Vaping might be bad, but at least it's safer than smoking." This "lesser of two evils" justification was giving young people a self-prescribed free pass to experiment with something that could lead to a lifetime of addiction.
This audience insight led us to a strategy that would tackle their logical defense head on: Just because it's safer than smoking, doesn't mean it's safe: SAFER ≠ SAFE.
We created five puppet videos – 4X, Infinity, ASMR, Mind Blown, Horn – all with different executions to highlight vaping-related facts. The puppets' weirdness – like barfing up glitter and fuzz on a first date – worked to stop thumbs, raise eyebrows, and land the health information young people needed about vaping.
Each fact – how vaping weakens your immune system, that it makes you 4x more likely to smoke cigarettes, that 1 JUUL pod contains 20 cigarettes worth of nicotine, and so on – became a proof point in our larger SAFER ≠ SAFE messaging.
From our previous research, we know changing our audience's knowledge about products comes from awareness of the facts. And if we can get them to look at more research and engage with content on thetruth.com, they're exposed to more facts. Ergo, less likely to end up with a lifetime addiction to nicotine.
Our Safer ≠ Safe videos successfully engaged young people to educate them about the health risks of vaping. Pre-market testing showed these ads overall were strong performers, with high likeability, strong perceived relevance, and clear communication and branding.
This campaign resulted in a significant change in beliefs and behaviors, as indicated by our media tracking study:
Increases in Key Vape Knowledge from pre to post campaign
23% increase in agreement that “one JUUL pod is equal to 20 cigarettes’ worth of nicotine”
13% increase in agreement that “vaping makes you 4x more likely to start smoking cigarettes”
10% increase in agreement that “vapes and e-cigarettes including JUUL contain dangerous chemicals”
Decreases in Misperceptions from pre to post campaign
15% decrease in agreement that “vaping / JUULing is safe”
15% decrease in agreement that “vaping / JUULing would be fun to try because it looks high-tech”
12% decrease in agreement that “vaping / JUULing would be fun to try because of the flavors
Educating young people in today’s crowded media climate also means reaching teens and young adults digitally, and from that standpoint, the campaign was also a rousing success.
Over a roughly 6-month period, SAFER ≠ SAFE delivered over 1.69 billion impressions across digital markets, including social media.