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The “This Free Life” campaign launched in 2016. At that time, there were more than 2 million lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) young adults ages 18-24 living in the U.S.1. LGBTQ+ young adults were nearly twice as likely to use tobacco than other young adults, ultimately resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of LGBTQ+ lives to tobacco use each year2.
Our Goal: Prevent and reduce tobacco use among LGBTQ+ young adults who occasionally smoke cigarettes. “This Free Life” was the first large-scale tobacco prevention campaign designed to reach LGBTQ+ young adults.
How We Used Research to Develop “This Free Life”
Prior to launch, FDA conducted focus groups and extensive research to understand the audience and test messages to reach different LGBTQ+ subpopulations.
From research, we learned:
- Tailoring ads and messages to specific audiences and featuring diverse and inclusive beauty standards was important for audience receptivity.
- The audience favored tobacco messages on the short-term consequences of smoking and cosmetic consequences (smelling like smoke, wrinkles) compared to long-term health impacts (lung disease).
- Using emotional messages with an overall hopeful tone was motivating to the audience.
- Ads that featured realistic and relatable scenes and settings, and thoughtful portrayals of gender non-conforming characters were well received.
“This Free Life” used primarily digital marketing tactics to reach its audience. Campaign messages featured authentic and credible voices from the tobacco-free LGBTQ+ community to educate the audience on the negative consequences of smoking. The campaign also utilized innovative approaches with social media and influencers to encourage LGBTQ+ young adults to live tobacco-free. Some of these marketing tactics included:
- Online and streaming video advertisements
- Social media to engage the audience
- Influencers from different LGBTQ+ subpopulations
- Campaign website featuring interactive games and quizzes
- Local events in select cities and states throughout the United States
The “This Free Life” campaign ended in 2020 and was successful in reaching LGBTQ+ young adults through primarily digital channels. Some key learnings and accomplishments include:
- Reached 95 percent of the LGBTQ+ young adult audience and received over 172 million likes, comments, and shares on the campaign’s social media.
- Ads that were tailored to different LGBTQ+ subgroups and used real people from the community performed well and resonated with the audience.
- Had an active presence on social media, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr and used these channels to engage with the audience and open a dialogue on the negative consequences of smoking.
- Working effectively with influencers added authenticity to the campaign and provided an opportunity for the audience to share their own stories about quitting.
- Won several awards, including five Hermes Awards, five Telly Awards, and two Association on National Advertising Awards.
“This Free Life” Campaign – Reaching our Audience in Unique and Engaging Ways
- Successfully reached audiences through digital advertising and worked with LGBTQ+ media partners, which added to the campaign’s credibility and authenticity.
- Held local events in LGBTQ+ venues to meet the audience where they were and gave them the opportunity to interact with the campaign and tobacco-free messaging.
FDA conducted a longitudinal study on the impact of the “This Free Life” campaign. Based on the data, the campaign reached and resonated with a large and diverse population and had an effect on certain attitudes about the social aspects of smoking:
- “This Free Life” achieved high brand awareness and high brand receptivity across a diverse population.
- Findings show modest, positive shifts in beliefs on the social consequences of smoking, such as tobacco-free people are more attractive, and smoking makes life harder.
- The final sample of 12,344 LGBTQ+ study participants, represented one of the largest and most diverse samples from this population ever collected.
Findings from the “This Free Life” campaign have informed continued FDA efforts to reach LGBTQ+ audiences and deliver tobacco education messaging.
Select campaign print advertisements are available in the FDA Tobacco Education Resource Library.
- To Speak to Me, Address Us: Insights from LGBTQ+ Young Adults to Inform Public Education Campaigns LGBTQ+ young adults’ awareness of and receptivity to the This Free Life tobacco public education campaign
- Tobacco use among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young adults varies by sexual and gender identity
- LGBTQ+ Identity and Its Influence on Perceived Effectiveness of Advertisements from a LGBTQ+ Tobacco Public Education Campaign
- Recruiting Hard-to-Reach Populations for Survey Research: Using Facebook and Instagram Advertisements and In-Person Intercept in LGBTQ+ Bars and Nightclubs to Recruit LGBTQ+ Young Adults
- Hermes Awards
- 2020 Gold: Social Video category
- 2019 Gold: Games, Contests, & Presentations category
- 2018 Platinum: Social Marketing Campaign category
- 2018 Platinum: Social Video category
- 2018 Platinum: YouTube Video category
- Telly Awards
- 2019 Gold: Public Service & Activism for Social Video category
- 2018 Gold: Public Interest & Awareness for Online category
- 2018 Bronze: Lighting for Branded Content
- 2018 Bronze: Public Service and Activism for Social Video category
- 2017 Bronze: Cultural category for Video / Shows / Segments
- Ad Pop Awards
- 2017 Gold: Non-Profit category for print ads
- Shorty Social Good Awards
- 2017 Finalist: Tumblr category.
- Association of National Advertisers (ANA)
1 Gates GJ, and Newport F. (2012). Special Report: 3.4% of U.S. Adults Identify as LGBT. Washington, DC: Gallup, Inc.
2 Lee JGL, Griffin GK, and Melvin CL. (2009). Tobacco use among sexual minorities, USA, 1987-2007 (May): a systematic review. Tob Control, Online First.
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