The topic I have chosen to discuss is the HSE (Irish Health Service Executive) Quit campaign, promoting the support which the HSE gives to those trying to quit smoking in Ireland. The initial advertising campaign was launched in 2011, when a series of three videos was broadcast. In my dissertation I will examine this contemporary Irish advertising campaign through its aims, visual strategies and effectiveness in communicating its message. I will also discuss how it relates to social values and attitudes in Ireland. I will achieve this through my research and understanding of the subject. I am investigating the Quit campaign as I feel that the HSE’s approach to promoting smoking cessation services are memorable and I would like to understand if they were effective.
2019 marks the 15-year anniversary of the ban on smoking in the workplace in Ireland. In the intervening years, the number of those smoking has decreased, but to what extent have they decreased and have the social values and attitudes to smoking changed in Ireland? This is what I intend to investigate in my essay, as I feel that smoking was and is still a major health problem in our world. I’m interested in doing research on how campaigns affect our opinions towards smoking.
In my first chapter I intend to discuss the objectives the HSE had for this campaign and I will also look into the story behind the campaign. The second chapter will be an examination of the two campaigns’ visual strategies and the final chapter will discuss the impact of these adverts on Irish attitudes and society. I also intend to mention the current attitude towards smoking and trends in smoking in this chapter.
As research for this dissertation I used a variety of sources. I contacted the HSE to find out more about the campaign and received a report they had conducted in 2018 on smoking. I found reports and journals to be very useful as they gave the most recent statistics and the most accurate information. I also looked at books as part of my research on the smoking ban to get a feel for how it affected people at the time. I used mostly online resources of this dissertation, especially for information on Gerry Collins, as I found it difficult to get information on him from other sources.
Since the initial release of Quit in 2011, it's success has grown and inspired many thousands to take the first step and quit. As of 16th April 2019, the Quit website states, “4205 people have quit this year”, and this number is constantly increasing (www.quit.ie). I would like to discuss and focus on the 2014 story of Gerry Collins I Wish I Was an Actor. Gerry Collins was a man who had been diagnosed with cancer for the second time as a result of smoking. During his illness, he filmed another series of clips with the HSE, which were distributed as advertisements and were also compiled into a short film called, Gerry's Story - A short film about family, loss and gratitude – HSE (HSE Ireland, 2014). Sadly, on the 2nd of March 2014, Mr. Collins passed away. While I intend to focus mainly on the visual strategies of the clips the HSE made with Mr. Collins for this dissertation, I will also discuss the success of their I Will Survive campaign, released in 2017. I Will Survive shows clips of people in the midst of quitting or former smokers lip-syncing to the popular Gloria Gaynor song.
Chapter 1: Overview of the campaign and its aims
In this chapter I will discuss the aims of the Quit campaign and the story behind the I Wish I Was an Actor advertisement. The Quit campaign aims to encourage the public not to smoke and if they are already doing so, to stop. The HSE website states, “The campaign is based on a stark fact which is not well known among the public – 1 in every 2 smokers will die of a tobacco related disease” (www.hse.ie, date unknown). The first campaign, 1 in 2 was released in 2011 and showed the personal testimonies of three people whose lives had been affected by smoking. One of the three people involved was Gerry Collins and he spoke of how he had narrowly avoided death as a result of tobacco-related throat cancer, ‘We think it isn’t going to happen to me, but it did, it happened to me’ (HSE Ireland, 2011). In 2013 he contacted the HSE again to let them know he had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and asked if, “this new chapter in his story could form a new phase of the Quit campaign” (www.quit.ie). Mr Collins had three main reasons as to why he took part in the Quit campaign for the second time,
There were three reasons I decided I wanted to do this - firstly it was for myself; a positive thing for me to invest my energy in while dealing with my cancer. Secondly, I thought it would be good for my family, creating something powerful and meaningful for my kids to look back on. And finally, if even one person stops smoking because of what we've done, then it will all be worth it for me (www.quit.ie, 2014).
In the 2011 Quit campaign, Mr. Collins remains deadpan throughout the advert and his serious face echoes the message of the campaign. The advert was filmed in a documentary style and showed clips of his children who were shocked at what smoking had done to their father, “He just looked like a sick, old man…not like my dad” (HSE Ireland, 2011). According to Rachel O’ Sullivan in her thesis, “The HSE set out three objectives. The first was to encourage smokers to make an initial quit attempt, secondly to encourage smokers to try again if the first attempt failed and thirdly provide and promote support services for smokers to help them in their attempts to quit”. (O’ Sullivan, 2013, p. 10)
These adverts were to promote the Quit service and website, which strives to help those across all stages of smoking cessation and bring them closer to their goal. The website itself is accessible and friendly, giving information on how to get started, showing where the nearest clinics and support groups are and dividing up the stages of the quitting process, making it easier to work through. There is a section in which members of the Quit community post tips on how to stop cravings from taking over and other general tips to help smokers progress when quitting. Using a smoking cessation service such as this, ‘makes you twice as likely to succeed.’ (Condon, 2019)
Whilst the number of those smoking has decreased in the last 20 years, the number of Irish people who do still smoke is quite high. According to an advisor to the Quit programme, Dr Paul Kavanagh, ‘more than one in five people aged 15 or over in Ireland are smokers.’, compared to 20 years ago, when one in three people were smoking, this is an improvement (RTÉ, 2019). According to the HSE, “In March 2004 just under 29 per cent of the population aged 15 and over smoked” (Duncan, 2014). In the years following the ban, the prevalence of smoking in Ireland has dropped to, “20% in 2018” (RTE, 2018).
The Tobacco Free Ireland policy was introduced in 2013 under the framework of Healthy Ireland with two main themes in mind, “The two key themes underpinning the policy are protecting children and the de-normalisation of smoking” (health.gov.ie, date unknown). The aim of Tobacco Free Ireland, stated by Dr Stephanie O’Keefe, is that, “by 2025 we will enjoy a society where tobacco use has been eliminated and less than 5% of people continue to smoke” (HSE Tobacco Free Ireland, 2018). In order for this vision to become a reality, the HSE and Tobacco Free Ireland need to change modern Irish society’s attitudes towards smoking. Campaigns and advertising are a method that can help sway the public’s opinion.
Chapter 2: The Campaign and its Visual Strategies
Brands aim to find the most effective and distinctive way of promoting their views and products in their campaigns. They wish to convey a clear message regarding their brand values. However, the visual strategies used in the two Quit campaign adverts are completely different. I will discuss the comparison of the harsh reality of Gerry’s story to the upbeat but powerful message of the I Will Survive ad. Even though the two campaigns took completely different approaches, they were both effective and made an impact on attitudes towards smoking in Irish society. I will discuss the use of tone and color, along with the style of editing and filming used in the two phases of the campaign to convey their messages.
I Wish I Was an Actor uses a very bleak, personal approach in its visual language. The main advert opens with Mr Collins driving and eating dinner with his family, whilst he talks over the clips in voice over, speaking about the fact that he wishes he was an actor and he wasn’t really living through this, “I wish I was an actor, because if I was an actor, I’d be acting about dying” (HSE Ireland, 2013). Whilst it is clear that Collins expresses regret in this video, “I wished I’d stopped smoking earlier, I really do”, I feel that he is more focused on encouraging other smokers to take action and quit their smoking habits before it’s too late and is using his story to encourage others to make the decision to quit (HSE Ireland, 2013).
The beginning of the video starts with an over the shoulder shot of Gerry driving, which feels as though we are passengers in his car and are getting advice from him during the drive. The way this advert is filmed, seeing Gerry at dinner with his family and practicing boxing, makes for very personal viewing. It almost feels as though we are intruding on his last days with his loved ones, which can create a slight sense of unease as we have already been made aware that this man has very little time to live.
As the video progresses, a gaunt looking Mr Collins is shown in an interview setting where he addresses the viewer, speaking directly to camera, almost as if the audience is in the middle of a conversation with him. The private aspect of his illness has gone as he shares his thoughts on his smoking and his cancer with us. He is upfront and honest about his imminent death.
The color and tone of the video is realistic-looking but there are a lot of grey tones used, which emphasizes how sick the subject of the video, Mr Collins, has become. The bright clothes he’s wearing contrast with his dull pallor. The clips are not saturated with color, which underlines the sense of gravity and seriousness of the topic. The video clips focusing on Family and Gratitude use a warmer color palette that brings the audience closer to the importance of family in his life and the effect smoking has had on his family.
The tone of the I Will Survive ad campaign is completely different. The I Wish I Was an Actor advertisement took a confessional approach as a means of promoting its message, whereas I Will Survive is a celebration of the decrease in smokers in Ireland and the increase of quitters. It has a much more optimistic concept, that “Ireland now has more quitters than smokers” (HSE Ireland, 2017). Like I Wish I Was an Actor, the use of color in this advert is realistic. This clip focuses on various members of the public mouthing the lyrics of the eponymous song and going about their daily lives, giving it a more light-hearted effect. Most of the actors in the clip are former smokers or those trying to quit, spanning over a vast age range (HSE Ireland, 2017). This makes the advert more inclusive and allows for viewers to find someone to relate to. The clip takes a more serious turn halfway through, when a man in his thirties stands in front of the mirror, a large scar is visible on his chest. He stares himself down and continues the lyrics, ‘Do you think I’d lay down and die?’, this time with no backing track or singing. The monotonous tone of voice he uses implies that no matter how positive this campaign is, that we still have a problem with smoking related illnesses here in Ireland. In 2019 the HSE released a statement on National No Smoking Day that, “More than 100 people will die as a result of smoking this week” (Digital Desk staff, 2019).
Advertising campaigns were hugely important during the introduction of the Smoking Ban in 2004. The Health Promotion Unit produced two adverts, which were, “acknowledged to be two of the most graphically impactful commercials ever seen on Irish television” (Gilmore, 2005, pg. 124). One of these adverts was Nico’s Crib.
Nico’s Crib showed how stifling and intense an addiction to cigarettes can be. The titular character shows off his glamorous house and his lifeless friends, who from a distance look elegant, but on closer inspection, have grey and yellowing skin. The final shot has Nico giving a sinister stare into the camera, “You’re not leaving already are you? Come back for more, anytime” (The Hall of Advertising, 2015). The two Quit campaigns I have discussed were aimed at a more general audience, whereas Nico’s Crib was mainly created to appeal to the vanity of younger people and to demonstrate that, “There’s nothing cool about smoking”. The ashen models and the spoof of the television hit “MTV Cribs” plays on popular culture.
Chapter 3: The effectiveness of the campaign and how it relates to social values and attitudes towards smoking in Ireland
In this chapter I want to discuss how Ireland has changed in the last 15 years, following the 2004 smoking ban in the workplace. I will take a look at the changes that were made to cigarette packaging which began in 2015, a year after the death of Gerry Collins. I will also discuss the success and impact of the two campaigns on Irish society.
The I wish I was an actor campaign proved to be very successful, in 2018. According to the HSE, Gerry’s story had, “…inspired over 1.3 million quit attempts’ since he first appeared on Irish television screens” (HSE Ireland, 2018). The blunt, hard-hitting videos were difficult to forget, due to their personal nature. The National Tobacco Control Advisor, Dr Fenton Howell, said that there is evidence that, “testimonials like Gerry’s have a track record of being hugely effective in smoking cessation campaigns” (Hennessy, 2013).
The success of Gerry’s story I think is due in part, to the simplicity and familiarity of his life. Here was an everyday man, dying from cancer, who decided to share his experience with the nation. Dr. Fenton Howell also stated that due to Gerry’s “unique and profoundly generous offer to create these adverts” that the HSE were able to then share, “a powerful and impactful story and to help a lot of smokers make a quit attempt” (Hennessy, 2013).
Gerry’s story showed a vulnerable side to family life, when a family must prepare for the loss of a loved one. Family life is seen as very important in Irish society and to see it being pulled apart and Gerry’s children about to lose their father makes for difficult viewing. Gerry Collins had hoped that others would be inspired to quit, in order to avoid the pain of ‘premature separation from their loved ones’, that he had to endure (date unknown, www.hse.ie).
Another aspect of Gerry’s story that was particularly effective, was the element of shock advertising used. The slow pace of the video is cut short at the end of the advert, with a black screen, with “Gerry died shortly after making this video. He was 57”, - written across the screen, demonstrating how the loss of a life is that easy (HSE Ireland, 2014).
Shock advertising can be very effective when done correctly. Over the years, probably due to overexposure, we have become more unresponsive to this form of advertising, with the same messages and same tactics being portrayed again and again. Shock advertising also tends to over-emphasize situations. According to Andy Nairn, the executive planning director of Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, “By featuring extreme, shocking images, you're giving people a get-out clause, making them think: 'I'm not that bad” (Williams, 2009).
The Irish Cancer Society released a new campaign in 2017, Get Cancer, which proved to be highly controversial, with opinions differing on whether it was too hard-hitting (Irish Cancer Society, 2017). The provocative campaign featured former cancer survivors saying that they wanted, “to get cancer”. The aim of the campaign was to, “stop people in their tracks and force them to acknowledge the disease that will affect one in two of us in our lifetime by 2020” (AdWorld, 2017). Much like I Will Survive, there is an element of optimism and strength seen here. The Irish Cancer Society also had people who had survived cancer, or those whose lives had been affected by cancer as the actors in the clip, like I Will Survive. This method of using “real”, everyday people keeps the message and the advert itself authentic and makes it more believable. Despite there being 92 complaints being made to the “advertising watchdog” this advertising campaign, “received no less than 5 honors at the Institute of Creative Advertising and Design (ICAD) awards”. In 2017 (Caffrey, 2017).
Shock advertising is also used to great effect in the HSE’s I Will Survive advertising campaign. The cheerful, carefree attitude of the advert is suddenly interrupted by a man who has been through a smoking-related disease already, reminding the viewer of the dangers of smoking. This approach to shock advertising is more subtle and often-times has more of an impact as it lulls the audience into a false sense of security and then pulls them out of it to witness the harsh reality of smoking. I Will Survive was very successful, capturing the attention of the media in Ireland and America and picked up numerous awards here in Ireland as well.
The smoking ban which was first implemented in 2004 began to normalize non-smoking in Ireland and these adverts helped continue this process, helping to change perceptions in Ireland towards smoking. The announcement of the ban was met quite positively, however there were some (such as tobacco companies) who were against it. Many argued that pubs and bars would lose business. In the years following the ban, it was found that an 'estimated that 4,000 lives had been saved by the ban' by a study conducted in 2013 (O’ Connor, 2019).
Tobacco control has been enforced over the last 20 years and as the years have passed, they have become gradually stricter due to tobacco use being, “normalized for such a long time, it’s all too easy for us to become complacent about tobacco control”, according to Dr O’ Keefe (HSE Tobacco Free Ireland, 2018). From 2015 to 2018, the amount of people smoking in Ireland has, ‘decreased by an estimated 80,000 people’ (RTE, 2018).
In Gerry Collins’ original Quit campaign, 1 in 2 Smokers, he mentioned that peer pressure was a major factor in his decision to start smoking in his youth, “Most people smoked in those days, it was the cool thing to do. It was all about image”. (HSE Ireland, 2011). This idea of smoking being seen as something sophisticated and cool has died down over the years, with smoking prevalence among 15 to 16-year old declining, “from 41 pc in 1995, to 13 pc in 2015” (Donnelly, 2018).
President Michael D. Higgins signed The Public Health (Standardized Packaging of Tobacco) Act into law in 2015, a year after Gerry Collins had passed away. In September 2017, plain (standardized) packaging on cigarette packets was introduced and was brought into full effect a year later. The brightly colored, distinctive brand packaging used on cigarette packets in the past has now been replaced with plain dull brown boxes and has images of the health effects of smoking printed on them. The bright, colorful packaging was used to entice young people and bring in a new generation of smokers, as they are the most likely to ignore the health risks and the consequences of smoking. The representative of R.J. Reynolds (founder of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco company), was asked what age group they were targeting in 1990 and simply answered, “They got lips? We want them” (tt4life, 2016). According to the chairman of Ash (Action on Smoking and Health), Dr Patrick Doorley, “Plain packaging has hugely helped and these days significantly fewer children can identify the different brands of cigarettes which prove that it is working” (Harris, 2019).
There has been a rise in popularity of e-cigarettes and vaporizers as a tobacco alternative in Ireland recently. “Vaping” machines and e-liquid packaging come in a variety of fun colors and there is an even broader range of sweet flavors available, such as mint, fruits, candyfloss etc. This wide choice and bright colors appeals to a younger audience, with the Healthy Ireland Survey 2018 reporting, 'that 4% of the Irish population currently use e-cigarettes and a further 12% have tried them at some point. A total of 9% of current smokers use e-cigarettes, with 10% of ex-smokers using them' (Halpin, 2019).
In the last number of years, Ireland has seen a new trend emerge in terms of tobacco smoking – hookah or shisha pipes and bars (Fig. 7). These are water pipes from which flavored and sweetened tobacco can be smoked from a long tube, “The pipe is usually quite large and consists of a water chamber, a tobacco chamber, and one or more flexible tubes stemming from it that allow multiple smokers to inhale at the same time”. (Martin, 2018)
Due to the sweet taste of hookah, many mistake it as being healthier than normal cigarette smoking. This is not the case, the Irish Heart Foundation are urging people to stop smoking these pipes, as, “a single session of hookah use typically results in greater exposure to carbon monoxide than a single cigarette” (Daly, 2019). Much of the discussion around hookah pipes and “vaping” has revolved around doubts about their claims to pose a lesser health risk than cigarettes and whether they act as a gateway to cigarette smoking. The very fact that the tone of public discussion around these new trends is that of a mistrusting and critical nature, indicates that societal attitudes to smoking in Ireland have changed dramatically.
In conclusion, it is clear that smoking is no longer as prevalent in Ireland, however we still have a long way to go before this country is 100% tobacco free. Through my research and discussion of the different phases of the HSE Quit campaign it was clear that the visual strategies used in the two campaigns I discussed were effective in communicating their message. The aims of the HSE were primarily to reduce the number of smokers in Ireland and through their Quit service and the adverts themselves they have left a lasting impact on social values and attitudes in Ireland.