Ground Zero Work Looks To ‘Undo’ Smoking in Calif.

There’s something missing from Ground Zero’s new spots in the California Department of Health Services’ anti-smoking campaign, and that’s the fictional star of the previous ads—a conniving tobacco executive so loathsome the work prompted a lawsuit from two tobacco companies.

“Bubbles” is one of two 30-second TV spots in the $19 million campaign that break today without the unscrupulous “Ken Lane.” The Marina del Rey, Calif., independent’s commercials, which feature the word “Undo” onscreen, urge people to help create a world without cigarettes. Prior efforts questioned tobacco companies’ marketing practices.

One spot shows places people might smoke at, such as at an outdoor cafe, outside an office building or in a car. But in place of cigarettes, they blow bubbles. As bubbles stream into the face of a boy in the back seat of a car, the text “Imagine a world without cigarettes” appears onscreen. The tagline: “Undo tobacco everywhere.”

Another spot, tagged, “Undo the exploitation,” shows a man interviewing for a job at a tobacco company. The interviewer asks which demographic is most desirable to sell cigarettes to: the affluent gay couple, disenfranchised African American or low-income white male. The candidate points to the photos of the interviewer’s children and says, “How about these guys?” The interviewer says, “You’d market to my kids?” Then he adds, “That’s the kind of out-of-the-box thinking we like to see here.”

The agency and the state said the tobacco companies’ lawsuit, which is being appealed following a ruling last year against the companies, had nothing to do with the creative change. Additional spots with Lane may return in the next few months, said Court Crandall, creative partner at Ground Zero.

“I don’t think we’re taking the gloves off too much,” said Crandall, adding that the new spots aim to break out of the increasing clutter of public-service ads. “We’re continuing to try to do stuff that will stand out. … Nobody is imagining the possibility of a world we could attain [without cigarettes].”

“Our ads are separate from lawsuits,” said Colleen Stevens, chief of the media campaign for the state’s Tobacco Control Program. “We continue to have and plan to have an aggressive campaign.”

Crandall said “Undo” will be used in future executions that focus on other anti-smoking topics, such as second-hand smoke and quitting.

Ground Zero’s previous campaign, introduced in 2001, featured fictional tobacco marketing exec Lane, who pursued questionable ways of targeting segments of the population, such as donating funds to ethnic communities to attract smokers.

R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard Tobacco Co. alleged in their lawsuit that the effort violated their constitutional rights and had a prejudicial effect on potential jurors in lawsuits related to smoking. From 2001-02, smoking among adults in California declined from 17.4 percent to 16.6 percent, according to the California Department of Health Services.