Zimmerman Wins Florida's Anti-Smoking Campaign

State's Largest Public-Health Effort Is Personal for Agency President

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Florida Department of Health has awarded its $17 million Florida Tobacco Prevention account to the Zimmerman Agency, a Tallahassee-based advertising, public relations and interactive firm. The campaign is the largest the health department has undertaken, due to huge support from a voter referendum to increase anti-tobacco-related programs.
For Florida's new anti-smoking effort, traditional approaches had to be changed in favor of messages that relate to smokers.
For Florida's new anti-smoking effort, traditional approaches had to be changed in favor of messages that relate to smokers.

Ten agencies initially pitched the account, which was eventually narrowed to three other finalists: Uzzell Advertising, also of Tallahassee; Dallas-based Wolf Agency; and Golin Harris' Miami office.

"This was the most detailed review process we've been through in 20 years," said agency President Curtis Zimmerman, who said the campaign's strategy will focus on reaching out to smokers rather than ostracizing them.

Personal battle
Preaching or shaming smokers into quitting is a thing of the past, said Mr. Zimmerman, whose parents died as a result of cigarette smoking and is taking this battle very personally: "They've heard it all before. One of the most common responses our research uncovered was 'I don't want to be preached to by non-smokers: They just don't get it.'"

Similarly, the threat of some far off smoking-related death paled before the more immediate prospect of staying single because of smoker's breath, research revealed. Traditional approaches had to be changed in favor of messages that relate to smokers. Smoking causes impotence, for example. "You'd be surprised how well this worked in research," Mr. Zimmerman added.

The campaign, set to be unveiled during the Super Bowl in a regional spot running only in Florida, will focus instead on the rationale behind smoking, and present both sides of the argument: "I care, I don't smoke", and "I don't care, I smoke." Both choices and their consequences will be explored throughout the campaign, which is expected to last well into the fall back-to-school season, a peak smoking uptake period among college students.

The agency-selection panel was most impressed with Zimmerman's creative, said Angela Lynn, marketing manager for the health department, but that wasn't the only reason for awarding it the account. "State agencies can't act on a gut feeling. We have to score the proposals, make a quantitative assessment," she added.

Leveraging the campaign
Working with a larger agency was a determining criteria for selection. "Size insured that [the agency] had a large client base to partner with and get more leverage for the campaign," said Ms Lynn. Leverage will indeed be needed for this campaign: under state law, all funding for the account must be spent by the end of the department's fiscal year, which is June 30.

Several companies have already stepped forward for partnership, including Twitter, YouTube and DC comics. The latter will lend the rights to its famous Justice League characters (which include the iconic trio of Superman, Batman and Wonder woman) for the creation of an anti-smoking comic book to be distributed in schools.

Mr. Zimmerman is hoping more partners will step up to the table. "This is the most challenging account that we've ever had, but it's also one of the most challenging societal battles ever. This isn't a product we're dealing with, but behavioral change."

The department is also undergoing its largest market-research push to date, awarding a $1.5 million contract to ORC Macro, which will include 121 focus groups to test the campaign.

Zimmerman will also be pressed to outperform the very successful "Truth" anti-smoking campaign created by Crispin Porter & Bogusky and Arnold for national health group the American Legacy Foundation. "Those are big shoes to fill. And the 'Truth' campaign focused almost exclusively on the youth segment," said Ms. Lynn. She added that the Florida health department wants to focus as much on cessation as on prevention, which means targeting older smokers. The effects of second-hand smoke and smokeless-tobacco products are also a high priority.
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