Tobacco Cessation - Keep Trying

Events, Seasonal and Short-Term (BRONZE)

Client Credits: Alberta Health Services
Susan Canning, Manager
Christa Bell, Program Consultant
Brian Luhoway, Tobacco Reduction Consultant

Agency Credits: DDB Canada
Eva Polis, Creative Director
Howard Poon, Design Director
Jenn Keller, Copywriter
Martha Jamieson, VP Director of Client Services
Geoff Grimble, Account Supervisor
Brian Macdonald, Art Director
Clayton Kropp, Art Director


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):March 2013 - April 2013
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: March 2013
Base Period as a Benchmark: Aprill 2012 - February 2013

a) Overall Assessment

Historically, Alberta has maintained a smoking rate higher than the national average. The 2008 Alberta Tobacco Reduction Strategy identified a goal to reduce the smoking rate for Albertans age 15+ from 21% to 12% by 2012. As of 2011, the actual smoking rate for this demographic in Alberta was still 17.7%.

One of the challenges that we recognized at the start of this process is that for every 1% reduction in smoking rates achieved, the next 1% becomes that much more difficult to attain. As we achieve success in encouraging smokers to quit, we are left with a more concentrated group of dedicated smokers who are less interested in quitting. Put in this context, it becomes apparent that the 2008 goal of a 9% reduction in smoking over 5 years was an ambitious target.

Many ex-smokers say that quitting smoking was the hardest thing that they have ever done. The nicotine in tobacco is an extremely addictive substance. In many studies it has shown to be as addictive as cocaine or heroin. In addition to the physical addiction and cravings, smoking often involves an emotional addiction (as it becomes a means for dealing with stress) and a behavioural addiction (as a part of everyday moments in a daily routine). Quitting is a difficult process and often involves many relapses, but help is available and can make a tremendous difference in an individual’s chances for success.

The tobacco cessation support services offered by Alberta Health Services come in the form of a website called This website is a centralized resource with a variety of information, tools, and programs such as online, phone, text, and group quitting services. Research has shown that support from doubles an individual’s chances of quitting successfully.

b) Resulting Business Objectives

Alberta Health Services (AHS) sought to make progress in reducing smoking rates in 2012 by launching a campaign to promote the tobacco cessation services that are available via AlbertaQuits. By drawing more traffic to the AlbertaQuits website, Alberta Health Services sought to build greater awareness of the quitting support that is available and recruit more smokers into their cessation programs. As more participants register, the proven success rates of these programs will help lead to a lower smoking rate in Alberta.

The ultimate goal for this campaign was to reduce smoking rates in Alberta among 25 to 40 year old women by encouraging current smokers in this demographic to make a new attempt at quitting, this time with the support of AlbertaQuits. In order to accomplish this goal, we needed to drive traffic to AlbertaQuits so that these individuals would become aware of the services available to them, and take action to sign up for support. Our immediate objectives during the timeframe of the campaign were to:

  1. Increase monthly unique visitors to by 50% (from 2,000 to 3,000)
  2. Increase monthly site visits on by 50% (from 4,500 to 6,750)
  3. Increase monthly registrations for cessation support on by 50% (from 200 to 300)

This campaign was one component of a larger strategy to communicate with a variety of niche audiences in order to make progress in reducing the overall smoking rate in Alberta. 

c) Annual Media Budget
$100,000 - $200,000

d) Geographic Area
Edmonton, Alberta
Calgary, Alberta

a) Analysis and Insight

Alberta Health Services initially identified a broad scope of adult smokers that they wished to communicate with. We recommended refining the target audience based upon a key insight that men and women have different approaches to quitting smoking. Men are more likely to do their own research, use nicotine replacement therapy, and make a quit attempt on their own, whereas women are more likely to access more social forms of support such as phone services or group interactions. Since AlbertaQuits’ services naturally appeal to women’s quitting styles, we saw this audience as being more likely to respond to a call to action for the campaign.

As we assessed female smokers as a potential audience, we discovered that one key barrier is a lack of confidence in their ability to successfully quit. For many of these women, their past 2 to 3 quit attempts have ended in relapse, which leaves them with the perception that they are simply not able to quit. However, research revealed that on average it takes 8 attempts to successfully quit smoking. It turns out that relapse isn’t failure; it is actually a part of the process of quitting.

We applied the transtheoretical model of behaviour change to the quitting process to further assess our proposed target audience. Within the model, there are 5 stages of behaviour change: Pre-contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, and Maintenance. Those that have not made a previous attempt to quit may not recognize smoking as a problem, and are likely to still be in the Pre-contemplation phase. Individuals in this state of mind and are much less likely to explore the cessation services, even if we were able to make them aware of what is available to them. Meanwhile, those who have made a previous quit attempt have identified themselves as a strong candidate for cessation services as it is clear that they have an interest in quitting smoking. These individuals are likely to be in the Contemplation or Preparation stages for another quit attempt. By targeting women who have made a previous quit attempt, our communications would be focused on an audience that will find our messaging relevant to their current situation and be most likely to respond to our call to action.

All of these factors made it clear that focusing on 25 to 40 year old women who have made at least one previous attempt to quit smoking represented a great opportunity to build awareness and drive greater participation in tobacco cessation programs. 

b) Communication Strategy

Our target audience was 25 to 40 year old women smokers. When it comes to quitting smoking, many smokers see relapse as failure. However, research indicates that it takes, on average, eight quit attempts before an individual quits smoking successfully. Relapse is in fact part of the quitting process. Our strategy was to reposition relapse as a sign of progress towards an ultimate goal, and help dispel the misperception that relapse equates to failure. This approach provided us with the opportunity to encourage smokers with the positive message to “keep trying”. To encourage smokers to take up the call-to-action, we reinforced the value of AlbertaQuits as a service that would “double your chances of quitting”.

In developing this campaign artwork and messaging, we conducted focus testing in both Edmonton and Calgary. The female participants found the campaign to be positive and encouraging; they also saw it as a fresh approach that didn’t stoop to scare tactics.

In summary, our key messages for this campaign were:

  1. Keep trying to quit
  2. Visit for cessation support
  3. AlbertaQuits can double your chances of quitting

a) Media Used

Our tactics for reaching our audience with the campaign messaging consisted of:

  1. Washroom advertising posters in bars and restaurants
  2. Washroom mirror decals in bars and restaurants
  3. Radio advertising (30 second spot)
  4. Online advertising (leaderboard, big box, skyscraper formats)

b) Creative Discussion

From meeting the perfect guy, to having the perfect hairstyle, to finding the perfect pair of jeans, there are many situations in women’s lives where they don’t give up after a few tries, but keep going until they get what they want. We depicted these iconic situations in washroom posters specifically targeted to females. The tone was humorous and uplifting, with the takeaway to “keep trying” and seek support from AlbertaQuits. We also produced mirror decal installations that allowed the audience to “step inside” the hairstyle ad creative for the campaign.

We produced radio spots for the campaign that opened with a contemporary cover artist singing “Pick Yourself Up” composed by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields. As an iconic song from the 1939 film Swing Time with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, it would stand out dramatically against the typical music heard on present day radio stations. The radio spot opened with the lyrics of: “Nothing’s impossible, I have found, for when my chin is on the ground, I pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.” The radio spot then artificially skipped and repeated “start all over again” several times, grabbing listeners’ attention while reinforcing the key message that in order to successfully quit smoking, you have to keep trying.

Focus testing with our target audience found the campaign to be positive, encouraging, and a fresh approach that didn’t stoop to scare tactics.

c) Media Discussion

We accessed our in-house media team for additional research insights into the media habits of 25 to 40 year old women smokers. This demographic is more likely to be unmarried than non-smokers, and thus is likely to spend more time in bars and restaurants (Restobar). Bars and restaurants are social environments where individuals are likely to be surrounded by a variety of smoking triggers. Delivering a cessation support message in this context is especially relevant to those who are contemplating a quit attempt as they are surrounded by reminders of how difficult cravings can be.

We worked with the media buying agency of record for the project to incorporate Restobar advertising into the media plan, which was rounded out with radio ads on female skewing stations to reach our audience in a cost effective manner. In order to maximize the reach of our budget, we decided to focus the campaign on the two major population centres in Alberta: Edmonton and Calgary. The campaign ran for a total of four weeks, from March 18 to April 14, 2013. We utilized washroom posters to deliver the core messaging, with support from mirror decal installations in key locations. The mirror decals were a series of dye cut hairstyles that the audience could stand in front of to see how they would look on them, with the message that sometimes you have to keep trying. Radio advertising carried the message beyond the Restobar environment, and acted as a reminder for those who had seen the washroom advertising.

In addition, we sought to further drive traffic to the website by using online advertising on female skewing website networks. All of the advertising tactics we identified ran in parallel for the full duration of the campaign.

a) Sales/Share Results

Our objective was to drive traffic to and encourage greater uptake of cessation support services among smokers in Alberta. The campaign’s performance relative to the original objectives is summarized below:

1. Increase monthly unique visitors to to 3,000

Unique visitor numbers increased substantially. For the month of February, before the campaign started, the site only totaled 1,848 unique visitors; this number increased to a staggering 7,061 for the month of March, and 7,559 for the month of April. This translates into an approximate 400% increase in the number of unique viewers who visited

2. Increase monthly site visits on to 6,750

Site visits increased exponentially. The site received a total of 4,462 visits in February, prior to the launch of the campaign. This number surged to 12,120 and 12,432 for the months of March and April respectively. The campaign increased site views by approximately 275%.

Pageviews nearly doubled. Average pageviews for February were 20,648; pageviews for March and April were 39,357 and 38,242.

3. Increase monthly registrations for cessation support on to 300

A significant increase in registrations of current smokers (fitting the target audience)

Number of current smoker registrants increased from 187 in February to 321 in March, and 346 in April. With healthy registration numbers among the target audience; approx. 65% of registrants were female. Of this population, approx. 51% were within the targeted age of 25-45. This reiterates the effectiveness of the crafted promotional elements in reaching the target audience.

From the perspective of the Alberta Health Services, and the analytics supporting the evaluation, this campaign was effective in promoting the AlbertaQuits cessation programs in an effort to reduce smoking rates in Alberta.

b) Consumption/ Usage Results

c) Other Pertinent Results

d) Return on Investment

a) General Discussion

There are a few key analytics that were collected during the campaign timeframe that reinforce the cause and effect between the advertising and the results:

A strong relationship between website visits and campaign run times.

Site visits to increased significantly as of March 18, the first day of the campaign. Numbers also declined steeply after April 14, the last day of the campaign.

The demographics of program registrants shifted towards the defined target audience. The percentage of activations increased among smokers who have made previous attempts to quit smoking. This is important to note, as the “Keep trying” campaign was directed at smokers who have made efforts of quitting and was crafted to encourage this audience to continue their effort. Activation percentages for this audience increased from 59.25% in February to 65.52% in April.

A strong number of registrants indicated that they received the campaign message via radio. 15.0% (in March) and 18.5% (in April) of the target audience that registered for cessation support services noted that they received the campaign messaging via radio. This is a significant increase when compared to the average baseline figure of 6.2% for radio. Considering that the campaign spot was the only radio in market from Alberta Health Services during this timeframe, we can correlate a connection between exposure to the campaign and registration on

b) Excluding Other Factors
Spending Levels:

Alberta Health Services’ annual budget for promoting tobacco cessation under this campaign was consistent with spending levels from previous years.


The services provided by AlbertaQuits are free of charge, and thus there was no possibility for price discounting during the campaign.

Distribution Changes:

The availability of AlbertaQuits services (both online and in-person) remained unchanged from the previous year.

Unusual Promotional Activity:

The tactics involved in the campaign were purely communication based, and did not involve adjustments to pricing or promotional giveaways.

Other Potential Causes:

The harms of smoking are already well known, thus there were no industry or news related circumstances that would have influenced individual’s desire to quit during the campaign. The campaign was also run outside of the “New Year’s Resolution” window of December/January, thus the results are not due to a seasonal trend.