How Would You Write This Ad?


For all the years invested in the craft, you’d think advertisers would master persuaders.

Top of their game. 

King of the hill, so to speak.

And yet, so much advertising still misses the mark by a country mile. 

So in today’s email, I’m gonna do something I don’t think I’ve ever done before. I’m going to list 10 reasons why this ad, which is highly praised for its creative and copywriting, fails miserably…

Before I continue, however, you should know that what follows is in no way a critique of the organization. 

I’m sure The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation is a great organization. 

My finger-pointing is isolated to this ad and this ad alone. 

With that said, here are the 10 reasons why this ad fails. 

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1. It preaches to the choir. Anti-smoking ads only resonate with non-smokers… not with the smokers themselves.

  • When you’re looking to persuade and influence new prospects, preaching to the choir is a classic advertising mistake. Whether that’s because the advertiser doesn’t understand the target audience’s hopes, needs, and desires… or choosing the wrong audience type in Facebook ads, you can’t convert the unconverted by preaching to the choir. 

2. It uses fear and shame as its core emotions. Much like fat-shaming ads fail to inspire change, smoke-shaming causes people to dig in their heels to defend their position.

3. Smokers already know the risks. Blowing it in their faces won’t help. They already know bad things happen to people.

All they can hope for is that it is the rare exception to the rule.

4Smoking becomes a person’s identity. Social circles revolve around it. Whether it’s part of being accepted in a niche crowd or to look cool/tough/fashionable or some other identifier, to stop smoking means, they are forced to find a new identity. 

5. Smokers can become psychologically addicted. What began as experimentation becomes a habit. Schedules revolve around smoking breaks broken up into 10 to 15-minute intervals.

6. Smokers feel better when they smoke. Whether it’s the nicotine or the routine, or both, smokers experience a sigh of relief in the first few drags off a cigarette. Trying to talk them out of that feeling – or worse, trying to shame them is doomed to fail. 

7. We all hate the idea of deprivation. Smokers are not immune to this truth. Trying to take smoking away from a person can feel like an invasion of their freedom of choice. 

8. Smokers may think, “You have to die of something.” Since none of us get out of here alive, one default defense is that everyone dies, and therefore we might as well enjoy what life we have.

9. A massive body of literature and media claims, “It’s harder to break a nicotine addiction than heroin.”These kinds of reports communicate there’s greater pain in quitting in the here and now than in suffering potential health consequences in the future.

10. Smoking can be relaxing and playful. As one ex-smoker writes,

“I want to take one out of a pack, strike the lighter and hold the flickering flame to the end. I want to feel that weighty intake of smoke into my lungs – just a tad bit heavier than air, so breathing deeply doesn’t fix it. I want to feel the exhale and see the cloud of smoke swirling around. I want to feel my shoulders and muscles relax with that relief that comes with the first exhale.” 

Bonus reason: Smokers know they are a dying breed (no pun intended) and that it’s anti-social to smoke in public. Smoking becomes part of their counter-culture and renegade spirit of non-compliance. They enjoy being on the fringe of society.

For all these reasons (and probably a fistful more), anti-smoking campaigns have never worked to stop people from smoking. 

Here’s what does work. 

When a smoker decides it’s time to quit.

For their own reasons. 

It might be the horrors of a health scare. 

It might be the joy of the birth of a child. 

But no one quits smoking without a motivation that makes sense to them. 

So, here’s a challenge for you: How would you write this ad?

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