Cigarette use among teens has been declining, yet certain at-risk groups of teens continue to use. In 2015, Rescue Agency and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) partnered up to focus efforts on one of these higher risk groups, and teens influenced by the values and norms of Hip Hop culture because they were approximately 50% more likely to use tobacco than mainstream youth. While Hip Hop culture encourages positive values (e.g. working hard, overcoming personal struggles), it can also promote messages portraying tobacco use as a desirable behavior.
“Fresh Empire” is the first-ever tobacco prevention campaign targeting at-risk youth ages 12–17 who identify with the Hip Hop peer crowd. The campaign’s strategy centers on influencing changes in the target population’s beliefs, attitudes, knowledge, and social norms toward tobacco use.
This distinctive challenge calls for inventive strategy. Since launching in 2015, Fresh Empire has leveraged integrated marketing tactics including television, print, radio, out-of-home, digital experiences, digital media, and events. Social media is also a crucial element of our media mix, and different social channels can help fulfill different objectives. One of Fresh Empire’s objectives for our Instagram feed is to build credibility as an authentic Hip Hop lifestyle brand, which may increase audience receptivity to the campaign's tobacco messaging and support the campaign's ultimate objective: prevent tobacco use among Hip Hop teens.
Social media is an important portal for self-discovery and expression for our Hip Hop teen audience. They explore, connect, and show themselves to the world on social. As of 2018, 45% of teens describe themselves as being online ‘almost constantly,’ and 20% more teens are using social media than in 2015. Fresh Empire met youth on social channels where they already hang out: Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter.
Fresh Empire’s social media efforts allow Hip Hop teens to engage and interact with a tobacco prevention message in a conversational environment. This interaction can help teens grapple with the role tobacco use plays in their lives and discuss it with their peers.
Fresh Empire is designed to combat the pro-tobacco norms within Hip Hop by aligning a tobacco-free lifestyle message with the real values held by the Hip Hop peer crowd. Before launch, the campaign conducted a thorough literature review and formative research that illuminated the values of our audience, including confidence, leadership, and overcoming ‘the struggle’. Our audience highly values appearing fresh, creative, and trendsetting—which means the image-centric Instagram is an ideal platform for generating cultural capital.
Hip Hop teens are perceptive, and authenticity is difficult to fake. To move the needle on a culture’s norms, we needed to first be perceived as a credible part of the culture. To garner credibility for the brand, we put out creative that embodies the values and aesthetic of the culture. One path is to incorporate Hip Hop influencers, pre-packaged with recognition and affinity. Fresh Empire’s Instagram has showcased our partnerships with nationally-recognized influencers with millions of followers, including Lil Yachty, Miss Mulatto, Big KRIT, Sage the Gemini, Ceraadi, and more.
This year, Fresh Empire launched Addiction is Real, a video-based creative extension highlighting brand ambassadors sharing real stories of how tobacco addiction has affected their lives. These brand ambassadors embody characteristics that our research proved important to the audience: freshness, confidence, and leadership. The videos are self-recorded with front-facing cameras in casual settings. Our audience finds less-produced content relatable and authentic, and the format for this series helped the messages feel personal, like the brand ambassadors were speaking to a friend. Sharing their real stories in their own words helps us build authenticity and generate engagement around the tobacco prevention message.
Addiction Is Real Performance:
“I had an aunt that would not stop smoking. She smoked until her death. It’s not too late to help other people.”
Our brand ambassador, Aniya, shared this story in the series’ first post. Our audience resonated with stories like hers, and even began to share their own experiences with tobacco in the comments.
These videos received an average of 46K average engagements per post, which is 77 times the brand’s average. Qualitatively, we received comments that were thematically distinct from our more conventional social content. Our audience resonated with the creative (“Wow that was really moving!”) and they appreciated the low-key, authentic creative (“I like seeing this type of ad much more”).
The decision to pivot to a more relatable, “lo-fi” creative style paid off, and we received the most engagement on Instagram. Our audience responded to this series as if responding to their own friend’s IG stories. Overall, Addiction Is Real received 260K+ video views and 14K+ reactions.
Fresh Empire as an Authentic Hip Hop Voice:
Since launching in May 2015, Fresh Empire has leveraged social media to establish credibility with this niche audience—we were even mentioned (organically) in Eminem’s first-ever IG story.
The success of Addiction Is Real contributes to Fresh Empire’s overall success in converting authenticity into engagement with the campaign’s tobacco-free message. Across social channels, we’ve earned 420MM+ social media impressions, 11MM+ engagements (likes, comments, shares, video completions) and accumulated 390K+ brand followers (with 74.1K on Instagram).
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