Unwanted Slices of Teen Life

Show, don’t nag is the approach of Maris, West & Baker’s latest campaign for The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi.

“Kids know they’re being targeted by tobacco companies,” said Eric Hughes, creative director at the Jackson, Miss., agency. “The spots make the dangers of tobacco relevant to them and their culture.”

Three 30-second spots broke Oct. 23 and will air through Nov. 26 on cable and network television throughout the state. In addition, tie-in posters will be distributed to secondary schools next week.

All three ads—”Barber,” “Bingo” and “License”—have a gritty, low-budget feel. An attention to detail and humor elevate them above the usual pontificating tone of most public service announcements.

In “Barber,” a teenage boy gets his pate lovingly shaved into a “comb-over” straight out of America’s retirement culture. The shop’s waiting geriatric customers sport the same ‘do. The boy, like teenagers who begin smoking, has no idea what he’s done to himself. The tagline, “You wouldn’t want their haircut, why would you want their lungs?” flashes on screen, followed by the warning: “Eighteen-year-old-smokers have 50-year-old lungs.”

“It [50-year-old lungs] is a pretty shocking thing for an 18-year-old to learn,” said Hughes. “We had to tell a story that there’s a lot of ways to screw your life up early, before you can see it happening.”

Rafael Fernandez of Slo Graffiti in Los Angeles directed the commercials, which were shot over three days in Los Angeles.

“We chose Rafael because he puts stories within stories,” said Hughes. “He throws so much into it that you don’t see [everything] the first time around.”

Fernandez, who cast his younger brother in “Barber,” did not want the boy to flinch while getting scalped, so he submitted himself to the same treatment, according to copywriter Mark Leffler.

“It was the kind of shot youcan only shoot once,” shruggedFernandez.

“License” had to be captured in one take as well. In this piece, which states “9 out of 10 people killed by tobacco start smoking in high school,” a cocky new driver backs his station wagon out of a DMV parking lot, right into a parked police car. The tagline: “That’s one way to screw up your life. Smoking’s another.”