The tobacco-slagging Truth campaign is back to inspire, or maybe just torture, teenagers with more anti-smoking rhymes.
A new ad, set to air during this Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards, focuses on a statistic largely overlooked among millennials—that people who habitually suck down cigarettes have significantly less cash than people who don't. And it does that, for better or worse, in song form.
"I'm stuck with Pee-Pop, who smells like a foot, while my squad's at the movies, and they're seeing something good," raps the first young man in the minute-long video, as he laments not being able to afford to join his pals—he's broke because he smokes.
It's part of a new ad push, unified under the hashtag #Squadless and created by Truth's agency, 72andSunny (MDC sister shop Assembly is handling media planning and buying). With some two and a half minutes of airtime scheduled for the VMAs, the campaign is the organization's largest on the show since first partnering with it in 2014.
Based on research that showed 88 percent of 15- to 25-year-olds didn't know that smokers have an average of 20 percent less income than non-smokers, the campaign will also include a :60 featuring a Diplo track, as well as digital and social components that will featuring singer Macy Kate and Vine star George Janko.
And in perhaps the most brain-meltingly millennial media themed sentence ever, the release reads: "YouTube personality Timothy DeLaGhetto, Vine stars Lele Pons and Brent Rivera, will also support the #Squadless campaign by creating their own rap verses to start a rap battle on MTV's VMA Pre-Show Snapchat live story."
One or two of those names might be vaguely familiar to the olds in the audience—at least, the olds familiar with Truth's advertising. Last year, DeLaGhetto had a hand in the campaign's Tinder-themed anti-smoking ad, a full-blown music video that left some, if not many, viewers reeling, and desperate for a cigarette. (Earlier this year, meanwhile, Truth was seen urging audiences to save the art of cat videos by not exposing felines to second-hand smoke—an effort that included an awkward "Peetition" requiring would-be signatories to share pictures or their pets urinating.)
The new musical number is short, at least, and despite sporting one of the more obvious and stilted lyrical flows in the history of hip-hop (if it can be called that), manages one brilliant line, from the guy whose empty pockets leave him enough free time to become a Photoshop god. Confined to his room, he confesses: "I don't have the memories or experiences to share, but I can put my head on the body of a bear."
That moment of charming idiocy is the ad's first saving grace (though it could reasonably be argued that the kid should be grateful for his newfound skill, which in the modern economy he might be able to parlay into a better-paying job). The second redeeming moment comes in slapstick form, when a young woman faceplants in the dirt from a significant height, though the point on which it's based is perhaps a bit convoluted: "If you smoke, you'll end up with a face full of bee stings, because you tried to climb a tree to see a concert your friends were going to but had no money to buy a ticket."
In other words, the set pieces are willfully absurd—which itself wouldn't be a bad thing, if they didn't also come across as contortionist attempts to avoid preaching. The larger point, meanwhile—suggesting smoking cigarettes will lead to being alone—might seem counterintuitive, given that lighting up is often a social habit.
More likely it's clever, though, given that the point is clearly meant to hit millennials where it counts—in their infamous FOMOs. But mostly, and unfortunately, what the ad seems to convey, is that do-gooder marketing executives think what kids really want these days is to cringe endlessly.
That's a shame, given how important the message is. Or maybe it's an ingenious sleeper strategy, insofar as one of the best arguments for everyone everywhere quitting smoking forever is that nobody would ever have to cringe at one of these intentionally embarrassing spots again.