A Smoker’s Brutal Fate

Arnold Effort For DPH Makes A Personal Plea
BOSTON–Some Arnold Communications executives say the latest campaign for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s tobacco control program may rival the shop’s acclaimed ads for Volkswagen of America.
The half-dozen commercials, airing through December, chronicle the travails of emphysema sufferer Pam Laffin and constitute a “repositioning” of DPH’s anti-smoking message, said program director Dr. Greg Connolly.
Refocusing the dialogue from politics, taxes and big-money settlements to issues of personal health and well-being was the key, Connolly said.
Showing a “real person,” a human symbol of the “horrors of smoking,” was also paramount, said Arnold creative director Pete Favat, who directed the spots. Laffin, a 29-year-old mother of two and former smoker, was the obvious choice because she appeared in an anti-tobacco ad two years ago and, health permitting, has spoken out publicly against cigarettes ever since, Favat said.
“No one believed Jews were dying in the Holocaust until they saw the footage. No one believed [the carnage of] Vietnam until they saw the footage,” Favat said. Likewise, agency executives hope that images of Laffin struggling to breathe, revealing the scars from her failed lung transplant and tearfully discussing her plight will have maximum impact.
Smoking levels among Massachusetts high school kids have been flat since 1993. The DPH has chosen for now to concentrate its annual $12 million marketing budget on adults and young teens, where smoking levels have dropped about 10 percent and 15 percent, respectively, in the past five years, Connolly said. The Laffin spots cut across age barriers, connecting with smokers of all ages, he added.
Exposure to the campaign could soon increase, as the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta may pick up the spots to air in markets nationwide, Favat said. There is also talk of translating the effort into Japanese, Italian and French, though plans are still in the preliminary stages, he said.
Favat declined to compare the ads to Arnold’s VW work, which has won countless creative kudos and brought the Boston agency worldwide attention. He preferred to focus on Laffin’s courage and sense of sacrifice. “She’s a folk hero to me. She’s giving what little time she has left,” he said, noting Laffin’s one-to-two-year prognosis.
Should she succumb, will there be a seventh spot in the series, sealing her status as a martyr to the cause? Connolly bristled at the suggestion: “We pray there won’t be a seventh.”