Post B: The Shock Factor – Chilean Tabacco Control

The message of all anti-smoking campaigns at their core remain the same, however there is a delicate interplay of visual choices and messaging that work to make a piece of visual communication successful in delivering a powerful message. Often the health consequences of long-term smoking are grim and the reality of this can be a powerful way to leave a lasting impression on an audience. In 2001, a study in Massachusetts found that youths between the ages of 14 and 19 felt advertisements that evoked strong negative emotional were more believable and impactful about the long-term health consequences of smoking. This was compared to advertisements which positive in tone, whether humorous or entertaining (Biener, L. & Ji, M. & A Gilpin, E. & Albers, A. 2004).

In South America smoking continues to be a widespread health epidemic, with Santiago in Chile and Buenos Aires in Argentina having the highest smoking prevalence (Champagne, BM., Sebrié, EM., Schargrodsky, H et al. 2010). In 2008 CONAC or the Chilean Chilean Corporation against Cancer funded and featured a controversial campaign in which the message was ‘Smoking isn’t just suicide, it’s murder’. The campaign aimed to bring attention to effects of second hand smoke, specifically targeting parents who smoke around their young children. The result is a series of disturbing and deeply powerful imagery which through the emotional tone and production quality are quite successful. The campaign did receive criticism raising the issue of using children in advertising, particularly as these images convey deep distress and can be difficult to view. There is a level of political incorrectness and a question of the audience potentially being offended by such content, however it may be this shock factor that is the only effective way to get an audience to be genuinely engaged. Whether disgusted or moved, it certainly leaves a lasting impression on anyone who comes across it.

Images: Caffarena 2008

It is interesting to note that the specificity of the audience of this campaign may also be a contributing factor to its success rather than a generalised “smoking is bad” message. The audience of this campaign is fairly specific to parents who smoke around their young children which is perhaps easier to target than smokers as a whole. In 2014, The Cancer Association of South Africa featured a campaign in which the message was ‘did you know tobacco kills’ (see below), which as it is a broad and impersonal statement, lacks the emotional impact and engagement which CONAC’s advertisement certainly had. The imagery of cigarettes themselves with a skull aims to evoke that same fear and disgust, however what CONAC does well is by giving the message a face, particularly the one of a child, the audience has something to invest in and empathise with.

Image: CANSA 2014


Biener, L. (2002). Anti-tobacco advertisements by Massachusetts and Philip Morris: What teenagers think. Tobacco Control, pp. 43–46.

Biener, L. & Ji, M. & A Gilpin, E. & Albers, A. (2004). The Impact of Emotional Tone, Message, and Broadcast Parameters in Youth Anti-Smoking Advertisements, Journal of health communication, pp. 259-74.

Caffarena, P (2008). Smoking isn’t just suicide. It’s murder. Available at: %5B, Accessed 10 January 2019.

Champagne, BM., Sebrié, EM., Schargrodsky, H et al. (2010). Tobacco smoking in seven Latin American cities: the CARMELA study Tobacco Control 2010, vol. 19, pp. 457-462.

The Cancer Association of South Africa CANSA (2014). Youth Targeted by Tobacco Industry On World No Tobacco Day 31 May 2014, Available at:, Accessed 10 January 2019.

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