Ground Zero Nabs Anti-Smoking Biz

The well-dressed men and women and the Marlboro Man cowboys parodied in Asher/Gal & Partners’ anti-tobacco campaigns may be riding into the sunset once and for all.

Just weeks after Asher/Gal—which re-cently changed its name from Asher & Partners—was eliminated from the California Department of Health Services anti-tobacco review, the state last week handed the account to Ground Zero. The budget is $125 million over five years.

This is the Marina del Rey, Calif., shop’s first government account. The review of 20 California shops originally included creative agencies such as Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco and Dailey & Associates in Los Angeles.

Ground Zero principals Andrew Gledhill and Jim Smith confirmed the news, but declined further comment. CDHS representative Ken August said of Ground Zero, known for its cutting-edge creative, “This is an agency that’s ready to tell the truth about tobacco and take our campaign to the next level.”

While many U.S. states have launched anti-tobacco efforts, the coveted, award-winning California anti-tobacco work has for years led the charge. Now, it appears the state will use a different strategy.

Officials at CDHS would not discuss potential strategies for its fall launch, but sources said the TV, outdoor, print and possibly online effort will likely center on “vilifying” Big Tobacco. Asher/Gal’s previous ads, which used cynical humor, well-dressed men and women, and characters who resembled the Marlboro Man, will likely be replaced by more aggressive ads.

“That is the most effective way to battle the tobacco industry,” a source said. “It’s very difficult to get a step ahead of these guys.”

Another source said the selection of Ground Zero shows its maturity as both a strategic and creative shop. “I think it shows that the agency is pretty grown up,” said the executive.

The client last year spent about $25 million in media, per Competitive Media Reporting.