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How Publicis Created a TikTok Filter to Expose the Face of Smoking


Publicis Montreal’s Mélissa Charland and RSEQ’s Stéphane Boudreau discuss the importance of targeting 11-13-year-olds with anti-smoking campaigns, and why a TikTok filter was the best way to do this, writes LBB’s Josh Neufeldt

How Publicis Created a TikTok Filter to Expose the Face of Smoking

When you think of anti-smoking campaigns, what sort of demographics come to mind? Young adults? Sure. Teenagers? Absolutely! But 11-13-year-olds? Maybe not so much. 

However, if anything, this demographic is more important than any of the others. Consider this: young people with little insight into what the future should look like suddenly get introduced to teenagers and various media forms which make it seem as though doing something like smoking will instantly make them cooler. It’s a slippery slope - one which the RSEQ (Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec) is trying to stamp out with its annual campaigns. 

For this year’s iteration, they partnered with Publicis Montreal to create ‘The Face of Smoking’, a TikTok filter which individually showcases how the effects of tobacco will alter a person’s face. Featuring the likes of yellowed teeth, dark circles, eye irritation, hair loss and dull skin, the filter delivers a personalised experience that puts the potential consequences of smoking front and centre, as showcased in the campaign’s accompanying OOH and spot. 

LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with Publicis Montreal creative director Mélissa Charland, and RSEQ assistant executive director Stéphane Boudreau, to learn how this came to life.

LBB> What was the brief, and what immediate ideas came to mind?

Stéphane> The RSEQ contributes to the academic perseverance and success of students by promoting health and personal development through sports and physical activity at educational institutions. As part of this, we have been producing smoking prevention campaigns since 2019.

This year’s brief was exhaustive - filled with objectives, challenges, clientele definitions and, of course, a strong desire to explore a global approach. We chose Publicis Montreal for the job because we’d previously worked with them on ‘De Facto’, another campaign against smoking.

Mélissa> The RSEQ wanted to discourage pre-teens (11-13 years old) from smoking cigarettes, and awaken their critical sense towards tobacco products. To this end, initially, my creative team wanted to show young athletes literally spitting their lungs out on the gym floor! However, we quickly realised that this was too intense and graphic for the target… who are still kids.

LBB> Why was this such an important demographic to target, and what were the key statistics driving this decision?

Stéphane> They were an important demographic to target because statistically, the age of initiation to tobacco use is 13 years old - making them a highly solicited clientele.

Mélissa> Beyond this group being one of the most at risk of trying tobacco products, you must also understand that in Quebec, this period marks the transition between primary school (5-12 years old) and highschool (12-17 years old). As such, this marks a critical moment when young people are easily influenced. They really want to be part of a group and are building their identity, which unfortunately, can often happen through smoking. 

LBB> Where did the idea of creating a TikTok filter come from? And beyond that, what made it the perfect solution to prevent smoking?

Mélissa> Through research, we quickly saw that the young people knew the effects tobacco has on their health by heart - like an old cassette that was played constantly. As such, it was obvious that we had to take a new angle that spoke to them: their appearance. And today, appearance goes hand in hand with social media! 

Building on this, the beauty of this TikTok filter is that it provides a personalised awareness experience. You can literally put the consequences on everyone's face, in their face. For a target that has difficulty visualising into the future, it was perfect.

LBB> What was the actual filter design process like? How long did it take, and how did you ensure it would accurately portray the effects of smoking?

Mélissa> The process was quite quick, surprisingly. First, we gathered the data and impacts smoking has on physical health and appearance. From there, we created an inspiration document with images of the visible consequences: the yellowed teeth, dull skin, dark circles, and so on. After that, we sent it to legal approval, and then we were able to use this doc to brief our TikTok filter artist. From start to delivery, the process took about one month.

LBB> The accompanying spot is super poignant! How did it come to life? 

Mélissa> It's really funny - we were looking everywhere for a simple locker room and finally, we decided to shoot in our agency's locker room!

For the process, we had the chance to work with the production company Rodeo Production, which also includes Rodeo FX, a world-renowned cinema visual effects company. This really made things easier. Even before shooting, we had already tested the desired effect during filming, which meant that the constraints were mainly to accommodate the visual effects. Specifically, the teenager had to act without being able to move his head. It was such a challenge! 

LBB> The main spot actor plays his role brilliantly, as does the poster model. What was the casting process like, and what made them the perfect choices for the job?

Mélissa> Sincerely, our actors were great. For the spot, we were looking for a boy between the ages of 11 and 13 who was expressive and had particular features (light coloured eyes, a beautiful smile, baby skin, and long hair) to give more impact to the effects of the filter. Étienne quickly stood out with his natural self-take, and from the moment we met him, we really believed in his acting.

For the posters, Emma was also the first choice. Not only was she brilliant, but, as a fun fact, we found out that she is able to fold her tongue in three!

LBB> Since release, how have you approached encouraging people to use the filter, and how many people have used it thus far? 

Mélissa> We developed a QR code that redirects to the filter - which can be found on posters in schools and bus shelters - and we directly promoted it on social networks. This combination worked amazingly! The filter is a success, and was named a ‘Top Five New Filter’ by TikTok when it launched. 

LBB> What challenges have you faced during this project? How did you overcome them?

Mélissa> Can I tell you a secret? The filter was not part of the initial client brief! In fact, the brief included only traditional formats such as films and posters. Coupled with time and budget limitations, we had to fight super hard to make this happen! However, our team was very passionate and super nimble in finding solutions. It all just goes to show that great things happen when you never give up!

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Publicis Canada, Mon, 29 May 2023 16:11:04 GMT