A TikTok filter puts a (gross) face on smoking

Who: Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (the province’s governing body for high school and university sports), with Publicis Montreal for strategy and creative; Rodéo Production for production; Rodeo FX for post; Le Pub for sound.

What: “The Face of Smoking,” a campaign aimed at preventing smoking among 11 to 13-year-olds by showing the impact it can have on their physical appearance.

When & Where: The province-wide campaign is in market now, built around a TikTok filter and supported by TV, out-of-home, and social media.

Why: According to a 2021 study, the percentage of youth 12-17 who initiated smoking was consistently higher in Quebec than in the rest of Canada over the 10-year period between 2007 and 2017.

But while the health risks associated with smoking are immense, warnings about “old people” conditions like emphysema and lung cancer seem less likely to resonate with young consumers who are still youthful and vibrant and unlikely to contemplate the age-associated risks of smoking. Instead, RSEQ tried to warn them of the dangers by appealing to their vanity.

It’s not the first time an organization has appealed to people’s appearance in order to deliver an anti-smoking message, but “The Face of Smoking” is notable for the age of its intended audience.

How: The TikTok filter transforms the user’s face to show the effects of smoking, such as yellowed teeth, dark circles under the eyes, hair loss, and dull skin.

Transit ads show young people’s appearance transformed by smoking, while a TV spot shows a young boy reacting to the filter’s effects on his appearance. All of the creative drives to FaceOfSmoking.ca, which lets visitors try out the filter and contains educational resources for young people about how to say no to smoking, such as sounding like a “broken record” by repeatedly saying “no,” or coming up with an excuse.

“We wanted our campaign to resonate with young people in a meaningful way,” said Publicis Montreal creative director Mélissa Charland. “We hit on something original and eye-catching that will get them thinking without sounding preachy or parental.”

And we quote: “Young people struggle to project themselves into the future. And that’s what makes the filter so effective; the long-term health effects of smoking are staring them straight in the face. We’re so proud of this campaign and excited to bring yet another health prevention message to Quebec’s youth.” — Stéphane Boudreau, assistant executive director, RSEQ


Chris Powell