Tobacco brand advertisements are among the most spoofed in advertising history, particularly for anti-smoking campaigns. Perhaps this is because the success of cigarette advertising has been immense. RJ Reynold s Joe Camel was extremely successful at establishing itself as a household name. By age 6, an equal number of children were able to recognize Joe Camel and its association with cigarettes as Mickey Mouse with the Disney Channel, even though cigarette ads had been banned from television before their lifetime. Though Joe Camel s campaign only ran from 1987 to 1997, this era saw an increase in Camel s market share of cigarettes among children from 0.5% to 32.8%, with estimated sales of $476 million per year. If such brands are so successful at bringing positive attention to a harmful product through advertisements, then the same advertisements, altered to present a different message, can be used to ruin the product s image as well. This is the basis of using knock-offs or spoofs as a form of anti-smoking advertisement.
Spoof ads are considered subvertisements, and have been dubbed a type of culture jamming by Adbusters, an anti-consumerism organization that created Joe Chemo ads. Whereas advertisements are meant to enhance the image of a product , subvertising uses irony and sarcasm to criticize and mock the product.
The research that has been done on other anti-tobacco campaign strategies may apply to these spoofs and give us an idea of their effectiveness. One study evaluated the reactions to spoofs by evaluating Youtube comments on ad spoofs, and it seems that most of the ads invoke humor, rather than fear, empathy, or anger (8). It is uncertain whether humor enhances the effectiveness of the ads. In focus groups, humor seems to increase the likability of an ad, which aids in recall). However, likability doesn’t necessarily translate into altered behaviors, and there is a possibility that humor distracts viewers from the intended message.
Another study showed that children were more likely to pay attention to a message that featured familiar characters . Using recognizable icons like Joe Camel or the Marlboro Man, two of the more popular choices for knock-off ads, will draw more attention to the ad and make people stop and look twice. But again, more attention doesn’t necessarily mean the ads are more effective in reducing smoking, especially if the ads generate negative responses. The smoking status of the viewer influences how the viewer will respond. Someone who doesn’t smoke and does not find smoking appealing with have a positive reaction to the ad and be more likely to recall the ad, while someone who smokes will be less accepting of the anti-smoking information. This may mean that spoofs may not be very effective at changing smoker s beliefs and reducing intentions to smoke.
Though the persuasiveness of these ads has not been confirmed by research, the industries targeted by subvertisements feel threatened. Tobacco industry perception of potential damage may be an indicator of the power of the spoof ads. Legal action in Canada has been taken against Adbusters to prevent the group from airing their other spoofs on television. TV stations believe that subvertisements are influential enough to eliminate the rest of their sponsors. The resistance is towards subvertisements targeting other consumer products like fast food and alcohol, because previous anti-tobacco campaigns have already resulted in the restriction of tobacco ads on TV, so those sponsors are not a concern for the TV industry.
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