Sitting behind a father/daughter pair at the movie

Sitting behind a father/daughter pair at the movies recently, Alex Bogusky overheard Dad—motivated by a “Think. Don’t Smoke” message on screen—lecture the girl on the risks of this “disgusting habit.”

“I felt I had to rebel and start smoking,” says Bogusky, creative director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Miami, discussing the anti-smoking campaign funded by Philip Morris. “Nothing could be more besides the point [when you are 12] than ‘This will make your teeth yellow’ or ‘You may die of lung cancer some day.’ “

To curb teen smoking for the American Legacy Foundation, the Washington, D.C.-based public- health group born out of the tobacco settlements, CP+B and its agency partner in the task, Arnold Worldwide, Boston, focused on a simpler idea, “Truth.” The foundation wrapped the message around the most powerful of teen motivators: rebellion. “Truth” is Adweek’s choice for Best Campaign of 2000.

The Alliance, as the two agencies are collectively known, went straight for the jugular, rolling out multiple TV efforts that didn’t tell kids to stop smoking, but targeted Big Tobacco with an army of angry teens demanding straight answers.

In fact, the campaign’s strategy capitalized on agency re search that showed most kids, especially the high-risk ones likely to pick up the habit, were surprised to learn how tobacco companies work.

“They believed cigarettes were made by farmers,” says Arnold creative director Pete Favat. “All we’re trying to do is make everyone see what is really out there.”

Perhaps the most inflammatory commercial of the year was “Body Bag,” an ambush-style spot filmed outside of Philip Morris headquarters in New York. The ad follows a group of teens as they unload a truck filled with 1,200 bags, stuffed and weighted to look real, and pile them around the building. One teen with a bullhorn asks, “Do you how many people tobacco kills a day?” As employees peak out the windows, their faces are pixilated to conceal their identities. “We’re going to leave this here for you,” says the teen, “so you can see what 1,200 people actually look like.”

Although the spot was initially deemed too “morbid” by some networks, it eventually aired during the Summer Olympics. A follow-up staged a similar display in Washington, with the kids building a “memorial” out of the bags. “If anyone finds it offensive,” says a teen, “so do we.”

“That’s what so great about ‘Truth,’ ” Favat says. “Not only are you making a TV spot, you’re also doing a live protest.”

Additional “Body Bag” spots were filmed as advertising parodies. One showed teens putting bags on horses. “Go be a cowboy,” says one, as the horses gallop into the sunset. Another, filmed in Hawaii, shows kids throwing the bags out of a plane. “Hey, tobacco! Advertise this! … Taste the adventure,” they shout as bags with parachutes float to the ground.

“Body Bag,” however, was just one tentacle of The Alliance’s anti-smoking work. Another discourse imagined what commercials of products, such as soda or acne cream, would look like if they were as dangerous as tobacco and told the truth. A third theme, framed with graphic Web elements, answered questions from the “Truth” message boards, and the “Daily Dose” provided brief facts, like the number of people who have died from smoking.

Approaching “Truth” as a brand like Marlboro or Camel, the umbrella campaign is a guerrilla-style war that attacks on multiple, psychological levels and, literally, takes its message to the streets.

One commercial took the message right to the lobby of Philip Morris. A platoon of teens, armed with spy-cams, confronted tobacco executives about the Marlboro man and their lies during the tobacco trials. Another ad shows a group of kids driving around an affluent neighborhood, home to a tobacco exec. Using a bullhorn, the kids try to guilt-trip the exec about the blood money he’s earned working for Big Tobacco.

Although The Alliance’s tactics may be viewed as extreme by some critics and naive by others, Favat points to the facts: “1,200 people died from cigarettes today. That’s like two jumbo jets colliding.”