To Cry or Not to Cry?

By April 9, 2009Marketing, PR

The 1.01-minute clip swept through the media last week. As a Public Service Announcement, the anti-smoking message was effective in gaining attention and multiple views on multiple media platforms.

But at what price? How far should you go to get across your message?

There he is circling in distress, a 4-year-old boy, who loses sight of his mom in a busy train station. At 37 seconds, the tiny boy wells up. At 47 seconds, he is in full wail, sobbing his heart out, his cheeks and nose reddening.

Quit smoking commercial- Separation Quit smoking commercial- Separation

The ad originated with the Australian non-profit Quit Victoria, a joint initiative of four health organizations. It began its Australian TV run in November. With the release of the ad by the New York City Department of Health April 1, 2009, NBC news called the PSA “heartbreaking and meant to make smokers gasp”. They tied it to the state’s sin tax on tobacco:  a New Yorker now pays $10 to buy one pack of cigarettes.

Did the Australian film crew make the boy cry? Did they tell him it was acting? Does it matter if it’s less than thirty seconds and obviously, since a camera is filming, the boy was not truly abandoned?

The voiceover is heart-stopping to any parent: “If this is how a child feels after losing you for a minute, just imagine if they lost you for life.

Ad agency owner and CNBC personality Donny Deutsch applauded the ad, saying “Bravo.” In a follow-up question from NBC’s Matt Lauer, Deutsch replies, “The kid cries 20 seconds, saves 20,000 lives, I’m all in.”

Indeed, anti-smoking hotlines reported as much as a quadrupling in calls.

Isn’t that what we’re paid to do as advertising and marketing professionals? We’re paid to get results.

End of story: The New York City Department of Health pulled the ad from TV.

Do you think the Department of Health made the right decision?


About the Author

Brenda Hessney

Brenda Hessney is a successful Austin marketing specialist with a knack for quickly analyzing, planning, and implementing effective, cost efficient sales campaigns. She also wrote and produced all the PSAs and ads for Boulder Radio Inc.’s KBOL and KBVL No children or animals were harmed in the making of those spots. Of course, it was all talk radio.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Christina says:

    Is the real conflict here whether they should have made the little boy cry? It was only 20 seconds, could that really have scarred him?

    The story about Shirley Temple’s mom telling her that her dog had died comes to mind. Is that abusive? And is it worth a moment of mental distress if the end result saves lives indirectly, as the ad is presumed to do?

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