Melissa’s Propaganda Analysis

Truth Initiative – Inspiring Tobacco free lives #FinishIT

Ideology and Purpose

The Truth Initiative persuades youth to help end smoking and is dedicated to building a culture that rejects tobacco. The Truth campaign wants to be the generation to end smoking for good, hence the #FinishIT. According to their website, they have always been about exposing Big Tobacco’s lies and manipulations. The purpose of the campaign is to get youth to take action to end smoking by going to events, signing up for texts and emails and joining to tour as a “Rider.” A Rider gets paid for becoming involved with the Finish It Tour. Their beliefs and attitudes are not to hate or criticize people for smoking, but to make the tools for change by providing facts to their audiences. They believe that finishing the job to end smoking comes down to “you” and that this generation has new beliefs and ideas so they can use creative ways to take down big tobacco. Overall, they use facts to convince their audience that smoking is bad.


The Context in which the Propaganda Occurs

History of big tobacco:

Up in Smoke: The Rise and Fall of Big Tobacco

The above video gives a historical timeline of the rise and fall of smoking. In 1924 more than 73 billion cigarettes are sold (Tsai, 2014). Ads make it seem like smoking is cool and everyone, even doctors, are doing it. The downfall to smoking came in 1964 when Surgeon General releases a report stating smoking is a cause of lung cancer. From then ads were banned on TV and radio, smoking is banned on planes and sales decline while the tax increases. As time goes on, more and more laws come into play banning smoking in places like bars, restaurants and other public places. In the past, tobacco companies used ads to convince men and women that smoking was for everyone. According to Anum Yoon, in 1929 American Tobacco pulls off the most successful ad campaign by convincing women that cigarettes are “torches of freedom” during the suffrage movement (2015).

Now there are endless campaigns, like the Truth campaign, fighting to end smoking once and for all. As of 2014, only 16.8% of adults smoked cigarettes (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014).

This statistic continues to decline and the Truth campaign turns their focus to teens. This campaign believes that they can take down big tobacco companies and kill smoking by reaching out to teens because only 7% of teens smoke and they want youth to be the generation to end smoking (Truth Initiative, 2015).

Identification of the Propagandist

According to Wikipedia the Truth campaign is produced and funded by the American Legacy Foundation (2016). They are America’s largest non-profit public health organization.

The American Legacy Foundation became known as the Truth Initiative in 2015 to connect to the Truth advertising campaign. They shifted their focus solely to spreading the truth about tobacco.

Robin Koval is the CEO and president of Truth Initiative. Koval has made a career of marketing and advertising and was responsible for the re-launch of the award-winning youth tobacco prevention campaign.

Koval is the CEO of the organization, but that does not necessarily mean she is the leader of the campaign. Often times the leader is concealed so there are no distractions from the campaign itself.

The Structure of the Propaganda Organization

The Truth Initiative organization has at least 20 known people on their team that are recognized through bios on the website. As stated earlier, Kovel is the CEO and there are 20 others under her ranging from the executive director to the chief evaluation and research officer.

I think that what really makes up this organization are the activists that volunteer or work on this campaign to end smoking. They brand themselves as the generation who will end smoking, so it is important that their organization is structured with young activists who practice what the organization preaches. The Truth Initiative has an intern program and a program to become a “Finisher.” Finishers get paid to tour the country on a bus and speak to people about the campaign to end smoking for good.

The organization then creates a culture that rejects tobacco and recruits other through their website to help spread their culture throughout the country. The organization uses their website to recruit new members by inviting them to events and getting them to sign up for newsletters and texts to keep them involved. Through the website, texts and emails, the organization is able to disseminate information to their members. Information that non-members will not have access to.

The organization uses the identification theory – as humans exist as separate beings they inherently seek to identify with others (Jowett, O’Donnell, 2012). Truth Initiative has developed a culture where youth fight to end smoking together. The organization finds a way to bring our generation together to fight for a good cause. Our generation can easily identify with this cause as many of us know adults who smoke or have died from smoking and so we want to change that and end smoking in teens all together.

The Target Audience

The campaign targets teens and millennials who are smokers and nonsmokers. Specifically, they target ages 15-21 because of their powerful social influence. Smokers are targeted so the campaign can help them quit and nonsmokers are targeted to help with the tour to end smoking in our generation. In the campaigns most recent commercial they are clearly targeting teens and young adults because it is about how smoking can also kill cats and if there are no cats then there are no cat videos which our generation seems to be obsessed with watching. They present the message in an appealing and fun way, yet still use facts to support their cause. Teens and millennials are likely to be drawn to the campaign because they try to end smoking in a new and creative way. Smoking used to be cool and the Truth organization is switching the message and showing how uncool it really is and hope teens buy into that. Cigarette use is on the decline and only 7% of teens smoke today, so they are trying to lower that number. The propagandists approach to selecting this target audience was through the fact that only 7% of teens smoke, they also air their commercials on MTV which has its own demographics they can use as well as gaining more information from their emailing list and people who are involved in the organization.

Media Utilization Techniques

The Truth campaign uses all media outlets, but is most known for their commercials on MTV. MTV’s audience is generally teens and young adults which aligns with the organizations target audience of 15-21 year olds. They aim their commercials at young adults and use topics that will get their attention.

In their 2016 commercial, the Truth campaign used a Tinder theme to relate to young adults and state that if you’re a smoker then you will get left swiped.

In The Real Costs commercial a serious tone is used to tell their audience the effects of smoking and they almost use a scare tactic. On the other hand, the Truth campaign, uses a comedic tone in their commercials. They are using creative ways to get their audiences attention. Although they are sometimes criticized on the non-seriousness of their tone because they do not offer solutions, but simply state that smokers earn less than non-smokers. They try to use things that will connect with their audience like pets, Tinder and money.

They even get their audience involved and have them respond to the media put out by using the hashtag FinishIt. This keeps the conversation going and gives them more insight on their audience and how the commercials ultimately impact them.

The commercials often use the three modes of persuasion: Ethos, Pathos and Logos. Ethos is the credibility of the ad and since it is produced by the Truth Initiative, America’s largest non-profit public health organization, the commercials are very credible because of the well-known organization. Pathos is the emotional influence of the advertisement. Often the commercials use things the audience loves like their pets to persuade them. For instance, the commercial states that smoking is bad for pets and immediately the audience is triggered and wants to do what is best to keep their pet alive and happy. Now, smoking doesn’t just hurt them, but it also hurts the things they love. Logos applies to logical reasoning in the ads. The Truth campaign fights to end smoking through facts. Most of their commercials use facts and their website has a page dedicated to facts like “acetic acid is found in cigarettes. Acetic acid is also found in floor wipes.” Each of these facts also have credible sources like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, making their ads even more logical to the audience.


In regards to visual rhetoric, the commercials are often loud, bright and attention grabbing. The music and pictures in the commercial set a comedic tone that are accompanied by bold letters stating serious facts. The Truth campaign wants the younger generation to be entertained to keep their attention, but also gain some knowledge about tobacco. The visual experience they create is playing off of what their target audience is interested in: cats, money, Tinder, dating. The videos try to relate to the audience by creating a commercial they would find entertaining. They also realize that young adults have short attention spans, making the videos short and to the point. Most anti-smoking ads use fear tactics that give it a serious or sad tone, but the Truth campaign has done something very different. This strategic approach hopes to creatively persuade the audience to end smoking and get involved in the movement.

Special Techniques to Maximize Effect

  • Source Credibility

Source credibility is a great tactic to influence change. Many people are influenced by authority figures. The audience looks to the source for knowledge and direction. The Truth campaign is based on facts which come from credible sources and well-known organizations. The website has a facts page which has different facts and each is cited so the information can be found making them very credible.

Other things that make the campaign credible to their audience is that the message is coming from or is framed to be coming from our generation. The content is relatable and it seems like the message is coming from our peers rather than some doctor telling us what to do.

What I found interesting about the campaign is that most of the time celebrities are used to promote the cause and get people on board, but Truth campaign has made a commercial about how celebrities are advertisements for big tobacco. Some teens might think smoking is cool because celebrities do it, but the Truth campaign exposes the celebrities who smoke stating they are the face of big tobacco marketing and they don’t even know it. The commercial wants the audience to see big tobacco as the enemy and also wants celebrities to think about their actions.


  • Group Norms

Years ago the group norm was that smoking was cool. Many people started smoking because their friends were and they conformed to a smoking society. Now, smoking is frowned upon and decreasing by the day. The new group norm is not to smoke because it is unhealthy. The Truth campaign uses facts against smoking and creates a culture that ultimately rejects tobacco. They are trying to create a generation that rejects tobacco as a norm as well.

  • Arousal of Emotions

Many techniques used in the commercials try to get emotions out of the audience and make them feel a certain way to ignite a change in them. The commercials have stated that smoking kills cats, makes you less money and gets you less matches on Tinder or just in the dating world alone. These are almost scare tactics, but they are introduced in a way that the tone is not serious even though the issues are. Pets can often get a lot of emotions from their owners and the commercials feed off of that. Smoking not only impacts them, but their cats lives are at risk too.  Telling someone that they will make less money because of smoking also triggers them to want to change. Arousal of emotions is often used because it is very effective to the audience.

  • Music as Propaganda

Music is an effective technique because it invites the audience to sing along while embracing the ideology of the lyrics. The “Left Swipe Dat” music video above is fun and catchy, but the lyrics are used to reject tobacco. After seeing the commercial the song might become stuck in your head and then you will be thinking about the campaign.

Audience Reaction to Various Techniques

Several ad reviews have questioned the effectiveness of the Truth campaign. One even stated the commercials were a “hot mess.” An article from Ad Week stated “The tobacco-slagging Truth campaign is back to inspire or maybe just torture teenagers with more anti-smoking rhymes” (Beltrone, 2016). Most of the feedback seemed negative, so I went to their Facebook reviews to see what their audience thought.

Overall, on Facebook the Truth Initiative has a 3.1 rating with 11 five star ratings, 11 one star ratings and a couple in between. This isn’t a lot of feedback considering their audience is millions of people, but the reviews will speak for themselves.

One man commented “It literally convinced me to start smoking, sheerly out of spite for their annoying, cringe, asinine commercials.”

This man was not alone, most of the negative reviews had to do with the way in which they advertised, not what they stood for or fought against.

I then looked to their Twitter which had a following of over 100,000. Most of the tweets directed toward them were negative. To me, it seems like they are very disconnected with their audience. They use topics in their commercials they think young adults will like, but in reality they find these annoying and ineffective.

Counter Propaganda

There is not much counter propaganda because big tobacco companies are not allowed to advertise on TV or radio like the Truth campaign can. There also aren’t very many sources that promote smoking at all because of the effects it has on one’s health.

Effects and Evaluation

According to the Truth campaign, their campaign is effective and they play a hand in reducing smoking among teens. Based on audience reactions and reviews to anti-smoking campaigns in general, it is not as effective as they would like to think.

According to a University of Georgia study, “They found that overall, the more the students were exposed to anti-smoking messages, the more inclined they were to smoke” (Fahmy, 2007).

Based on my research, I believe this campaign is persuasion. Persuasion is about helping others do something which is viewed as right while propaganda has an ulterior motive and often misguides people to benefit the propagandist. The leaders of this campaign share facts that they hope will end smoking. Ultimately if they end smoking it will benefit each individual’s health, not just the organization.


Beltrone, G. (2016, August 25). Ad of the Day: Millennial Smokers Get Left Out in Truth’s New FOMO-Filled Ads. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from

Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the United States. (2016, March 14). Retrieved November 14, 2016, from

Fahmy, S. (2007, July 19). UGA Today. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from

Jowett, G., & O’Donnell, V. (2012). Propaganda & persuasion. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Teen smoking drops to 7%. (2015, December 16). Retrieved November 14, 2016, from

Truth (anti-tobacco campaign). (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2016, from

Tsai, D. (2014, July 16). Up in Smoke: The Rise and Fall of Big Tobacco. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from

Yoon, A. (2015, December 3). The Rise and Fall of Cigarettes in the U.S. [Infographic]. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from




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