Clearing the air: The fight against big tobacco

The battle against Big Tobacco was never going to be easy, so the California Tobacco Control Program (CTCP) requested our design and strategic expertise - in partnership with award-winning brand and advertising agency Duncan Channon - to help fuel the fight and elevate their ambitious public health goals. Urgency, hope, fear, optimism — we balanced emotions to create a website that encourages action through education.

Raising awareness

CTPP’s ambitious goal is to transform California by eradicating the tobacco industry’s manipulative, predatory, and deadly influence to equitably increase the health, environmental, and economic well-being of California’s diverse populations. And they’ve experienced incredible success in fighting this titan industry, encouraging and educating people to stamp out the habit. However, taking on such a colossal, addictive, and highly-marketed product requires a proactive approach — identifying and unveiling the tobacco industry’s lies and manipulation and rapidly raising awareness.

Accomplishments had largely gone unnoticed by the general public, and the majority of people who support the cause were unaware there was an organization actively battling to end the commercialization of this damaging substance.

The California Tobacco Prevention Program engaged us to:

  • Educate the people of California about their cause.
  • Inspire the public to stand against the tobacco industry.
  • Activate new supporters with easy-to-take actions.

Together, we’d create a platform that reveals the tobacco industry’s lies and manipulation through education and provide audiences with clear and actionable ways of supporting our mission.


Increase in site visitors expressing high amounts of distrust in the tobacco industry.


Letters of concern sent to local elected officials.


People using social media to share information learned from the site.

A delicate approach to a devastating challenge

Empathetic audience research allowed us to connect with California residents, providing invaluable insights into how this poisonous industry affects people from different cultural backgrounds and communities. We quickly identified that our priority populations supported the end of the tobacco epidemic. But, with experience in the cause-based space, we knew communication would be critical, even in a receptive market.

To maximize our outreach efforts, we had to create a website that balances emotional and logical appeals. With valuable information to convey, we had to position the fight against the tobacco industry as an urgent matter, convincing people to prioritize our cause.

We carefully considered how to communicate the dimensionality of harm the industry imposes, their persistent racist strategies, how they intoxicate the political system, and target children with addiction. And, how could we display the effects of the tobacco epidemic on other harms, like pollution, which impacts both people and our environment?

Finally, we needed to walk the fine line between urgency and optimism. To make it a memorable experience, we'd need to include colour and life to balance the sombre subject and incorporate storytelling to convey the narrative.

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Inspiring action

Taking on Big Tobacco is no small challenge, so we partnered with several talented agencies, including cultural and language experts, Duncan Channon, Apartnership, Acento, and We Are Rally, to extend their knowledge, research, strategy, brand, and advertising experience to the new digital space.

We created a new website to share CTPP’s knowledge and efforts with the world, bringing down this toxic giant through our three key goals — educate, inspire, and activate. Throughout the site, we harness color, and the interplay of light and dark to convey the contrast between good and evil, the hope of UNDO’s continued progress, and the tobacco industry’s constant onslaught of lies.

Animation leads the eye, provides rhythm, and elevates content — so we implemented subtle transitions to intrigue. In the Little Big Lies campaign, we harnessed motion to simulate an underwater environment littered with microplastics.

We designed and built narrative-driven experiences dedicated to the harms caused by the tobacco industry’s damaging practices to display their negative impact on our communities — the people and places we love.

Our strategy approached every page with a distinct goal — educate for action. We identified that it was essential to lead with emotion, tugging on heartstrings while providing proof and instilling urgency, but always close with an achievable call to action. And we reward this action. When readers decide to act, they are celebrated, as our contribution counter increases, visualizing the community's strength in numbers.

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The smoke is clearing

Our work with CTPP was a huge success. After a bold and calculated marketing campaign by Duncan Channon, the freshly branded website inspired its audience, with an intercept survey recording an increase of more than 10% in users expressing distrust of the tobacco industry after arriving.

It aided CTPP in retaining momentum, too. We made sharing information from the website to social media more accessible, resulting in 26,000+ people voicing their concerns through CTPP content. People are now petitioning for real change: 15,000+ letters of concern were sent to local officials, and more than 600+ people expressed a desire to support a local tobacco control coalition.

We continue to fight — changing the tone, being unapologetic in our goals, and providing hope to the people of California. We’ve worked alongside the California Tobacco Prevention Program for five years and hope to be by their side until the end.

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