Sedgwick Rd. Gets ‘Gross’ to Curb Smoking

LOS ANGELES A new campaign by Interpublic Group’s Sedgwick Rd. breaks today with a simple message on behalf of the Washington State Department of Health: Smoking is gross.

Targeted at “hard-to-shock” 12- to 14-year-olds, the TV, outdoor, print, radio and online effort relies on deceptively innocent stop-motion dolls to convey the “disgusting ramifications of cigarette smoking,” said agency copywriter Scott Stripling.

The Seattle shop’s previous anti-smoking work focused on the health risks of lighting up. But by middle school, Stripling said, kids not only know smoking is dangerous, but they are already “a pretty jaded, cynical audience.” Although the concept of mortality may be lost on young teens, he explained, the social consequences of bad breath, stinky clothes and being “perceived as a gross person are immediate.”

To display this, one of two 30-second TV spots begins with a sweet, doe-eyed doll couple getting cozy to the tune of a psychedelically tinged melody. But when the family kitty deposits a hairball directly in front of the sweethearts, the doll boy proceeds to gobble it up like pudding. His mouth covered with cat puke, he returns to the sofa to continue canoodling; his former flame’s interest has turned to repulsion. The spot ends with a shot of the rec room TV screen. Text on it reads, “Kissing a smoker is just as gross” and “Tobacco smokes you.”

Complementary outdoor and print executions depict similar saucer-eyed dolls, Stripling said, their mouths full of trash-heap fare: rotten fish, old sneakers, bloody rats. All ads steer viewers to a Web microsite,, featuring interactive games and a “Gross Gallery” of downloadable goodies.

In addition to Stripling, campaign personnel included Sedgwick Rd. associate creative directors Zach Hitner and Forrest Healy and art director Mishy Cass, who worked with Portland, Ore., animation facility Bent Image Lab and Spokane, Wash., Web designers Seven2. Campaign extras—distributed at malls and skateparks across Washington—include hologram bookmarks, T-shirts and dirty sock-scented scratch-and-sniff postcards.

Work runs statewide through June, according to Sedgwick Rd. A broadcast and cable TV schedule includes appearances on Smallville, The Simpsons and Gilmore Girls. Online media placements include Web sites such as Yahoo mail, MSN hotmail, Myspace, Burst, Ugo and Xanga.

The Washington State Department of Health is spending $2.1 million on its current anti-smoking effort, the agency said, comparable to its 2004 advertising budget. About $1.5 million of that figure was devoted to media.

Cass said that while the admittedly envelope-pushing ads might not resonate with some adults, kids would definitely pay attention. “It’s all about image,” she said. “That’s something they can really relate to.”