Favorite Past Project: Anti-tobacco Ad

Anti-tobacco newspaper ad

Anti-tobacco newspaper ad

Work That Is Its Own Reward

Most graphic designers would probably agree that our occupation is more rewarding than most. The privilege of working in design and branding is that we get to work collaboratively; we are allowed and encouraged to let our creativity flow; and, we are called to employ both cranial hemispheres in the act of creating and shaping meaning. It feels good to do all of those things.

The projects that provide us with the greatest fulfillment – speaking for Kelly and I – are those that encapsulate all off this in the context of fostering positive change.

Looking back over the past several years, one project I am most proud of was an ad for a Western New York anti-tobacco campaign. The campaign aimed to bring attention to the marketing of tobacco products and its impact on youth, while influencing retailers to change their practices.

The creative brief was simple, with few parameters, allowing me a lot of artistic flexibility. I was provided with various images of older pieces the group had published and some very literal photographic images that I could incorporate if I wished.

But I wanted to do something that would drive the point home on an emotional level. Something that wasn't preachy but that would affect people viscerally. 

I wanted to make people hold their breath for a split second.

Most of my initial concepts were fine but not necessarily powerful. The idea for the concept that ultimately won out came to me suddenly, when I wasn't trying, as most of my best ideas often do. I could see the whole thing in my mind. All that was left was to make it come alive. And then to pray the client shared my vision.

The Concept, Explained

The literal message – the text of the ad – is information that most of us would never give much thought to. And I knew the piece would be buried in a large newspaper spread with lots of competing content. So how could I get people to read it? If I couldn't make them look in the first place, those words would have been no more valuable than the paper they were printed on.

The boldly contrasting black and burgundy tones were selected to provide a foreboding, stark sensation. This was balanced against a softer background so as to not be overly intense. The yellowed tone is also evocative of nicotine stains.

The lettering in the graphic represents something threatening and intrusive – a message forced into the space without thought or regard for its audience. It is unavoidable and careless as it overwhelms the small human figure in the foreground.

The silhouetting of the child reflects the idea that "the messengers" behind tobacco advertising view him as anonymous. Yet his posture and other details should hopefully tell us enough about him that we begin to sense he is someone we might know and would wish to protect. He is anyone's kid, keeping his head down, staying out of trouble and just trying to get home from school. If only we could make it a little easier for him …

Once the graphic grabbed attention, the intention was for the eye to be drawn next to the subheading "Protect your kids from tobacco advertising." If that missive made any impact, I'd already done a good job and, most likely, many viewers would go on to read the rest of the text, bringing the point home even further.

It has been several years since the ad was published, and to this day it remains one of my favorite pieces ever. I'm proud of the concept and very much enjoyed bringing it to life. 

I will never know for sure, but I hope it helped make a difference.

- Melissa