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Case study: Make Them Pay

Challenging social acceptance of the tobacco industry among young people

Published: 13 Jan 2017

Make Them Pay

Client: Cancer Research UK

Agency: Livity

Campaign: Make Them Pay

Timescale: N/A

A quick look

Research commissioned by Cancer Research UK highlighted that young people (16-24) were apathetic towards the tobacco industry and unaware of the huge health and economic burden that it places on society. ‘Make Them Pay’ aimed to challenge social acceptance of the tobacco industry among young people by exposing some shocking facts.

The campaign centred on a piece of ‘spoken word’ video content featuring renowned spoken word artist Suli Breaks, who revealed some harsh truths about the tobacco industry and provided viewers with a clear mechanism to enable them to express their concern, ie signing the Cancer Research UK petition. The video received over two million views in just four weeks and generated nearly 5,000 petition signatures.


Research commissioned by Cancer Research UK highlighted that young people are apathetic towards the tobacco industry, aren’t aware of the huge health and economic burden that it places on society and, when discussing ‘smoking issues’, smokers tend to blame themselves or the government, but rarely the tobacco industry.

However, tobacco use in England alone costs society approximately £13.8bn each year. Use of tobacco also remains the UK’s single greatest cause of preventable illness and avoidable death, with 100,000 people dying each year from smoking- related diseases, including cancer. The tobacco industry invests a great deal of money in marketing its products to young people and it works hard to stay out of the media. As a result, it is often seen as blameless in relation to these issues.


Cancer Research UK and Livity strove to challenge this social norm by developing a digital media campaign that shone a light on the damage the tobacco industry causes and exposing some of the shocking facts it would rather keep hidden. We wanted to encourage young people (16-24 year olds) to reconsider the tobacco industry’s role in facilitating smoking, and to empower them with a clear call to action to stand up against the industry and ‘make them pay’ for the damage it causes.

The call to action urged young people to sign a Cancer Research UK petition that called upon the government to impose a £500m levy on the tobacco industry’s market share in the UK. Funds from the levy would be used to retain gold standard stop smoking services, to produce mass media campaigns to help people quit and to tackle the illicit trade in tobacco.

We partnered with renowned spoken word artist, Suli Breaks, to create a powerful spoken word video that would take the viewer from being in the dark about how the tobacco industry benefits from selling a product that kills up to 2 in 3 long-term smokers, to being armed with knowledge.

Viewers engaged by the content were provided with a clear mechanism to enable them to express their concern, ie the petition, while Suli’s credibility with our target audience ensured that the piece felt relevant and authentic. Social influencer credibility was used to land and amplify the key campaign messages with impact and produced a range of supporting content that was shared by Cancer Research UK and supportive social influencers across social media channels.


The video received more than 2.2 million views and had over 2.3 million engagements on social media which surpassed campaign benchmarks. There were 18,591 unique campaign visits to the petition landing page, which drove nearly 5,000 to sign up to the petition. The average time on the landing page was 2:01 minutes, higher than the average time of 1:36 minutes, which demonstrates that those who clicked through from the video were highly engaged.

Client verdict

Kathryn Weir, senior health marketing manager at Cancer Research UK, commented: “The spoken-word concept worked well to communicate some complicated messages in a poetic and engaging way, inspiring many young people to stand up for themselves and their future by sharing the video content and/or signing our petition. By taking a stand against the corporate power of the tobacco industry and pledging support to make them pay for the damage they cause, young people who were engaged by this campaign have directly contributed to efforts to reduce the economic impact of this industry on our society.”

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