One of the most intractable public health issues of our time is teen smoking.  What begins as an act of rebellion often turns into a lifelong addiction, which can lead to debilitating if not deadly illness.  That’s the first ugly reality.  Then there are the decades of failed public health programs that carry these important messages, but unfortunately fall on deaf ears of teens convinced of their invincibility.  Finally, there are the decades of ingenious billion-dollar marketing campaigns targeted to young people to convince them of the cool, sexy, rebellious nature of smoking.  It’s no surprise, then, that teen smoking rates are on the rise in Minnesota and higher than the national average.  

The time has come to change the social fabric associated with teen tobacco use.  The time has come to try something radical.  The time has come to put teens in charge.  This campaign HAS to be more than a catchy slogan; more than high-impact advertising; more than ingenious public relations.  We sought to and have been successful in creating a movement of Minnesota teens standing up and taking charge.  Their name:  Target Market.  Their slogan:  You target us.  Now we target you.


The challenges included penetrating the clutter on the teen landscape, convincing teens that Target Market is not another lame anti-smoking campaign, reframing the tobacco prevention debate from one that emphasized health risks to one that centers on the notion of tobacco industry manipulation, and finally, motivating teens to take action and sign on as members of Target Market.


Research helped further define our target audience of 12-17-year-olds and set campaign strategy.  

Eight focus groups of 150 teens found them to be:

  • resentful of tobacco industry manipulation  
  • receptive to reframing the anti-tobacco debate from health effects to targeting the tobacco industry,  
  • keenly sensitive to whether a particular concept was developed by a teen or adult, the former being highly preferable, and  
  • strongly opposed to adults telling them what to do.

We studied other states’ anti-tobacco campaigns in an effort to learn what worked.  Teen empowerment was a key to success. 


The Kick Ash Bash –  This event was the ultimate focus group and ideation session as 400 teens gathered for three days to set campaign strategy and plan tactics.  The teens divided the strategy into three phases:  who we are, why we’re mad, and what we’re going to do about it.  Equal parts revival and campaign rally, the teens learned about tobacco industry targeting of teens, partied and left the event highly motivated to build a movement.  Attendees filed through a “thank-you booth” to videotape messages to Big Tobacco.  The best were culled and produced as 30- and 60-second radio and TV ads.


  • Build a statewide movement of Minnesota teens to take on Big Tobacco  
  • Generate broad and extensive media coverage   
  • Reach teens where they live, work and hang out  
  • Involve teens from throughout Minnesota


The movement must be of, by and for youth.

The overriding theme guiding messages and tactics is tobacco industry manipulation.

The campaign is divided into three phases:  who we are, why we’re mad, and what we’re going to do about it.


Recruitment effort – 1,200 TM recruitment kits were sent to Bash attendees and applicants in an effort to build movement numbers.  The edgy corrugated cardboard box contained the Bash final report, the Target Market Targets Back video, a TM logo slick, the first two TM gear items (dog tags and a rubber band bracelet), and a stack of recruitment postcards to distribute to friends.  All new recruits were sent a rubber band bracelet and anyone recruiting 10 or more members was sent a TM t-shirt.

First round of ads – Three weeks after the Bash, the first ads were airing on TV and radio statewide and mysterious billboards with a Target Market signature dotted the landscape statewide.  Many of the teens appearing in the ads spoke at an ad launch press conference in the Twin Cities.  This was complemented by a statewide media relations effort to spotlight all ad stars.

Launch of – The Target Market Web site was launched three weeks after the Bash.

Logo Identity, Gear – Teens were given the opportunity to vote on a Target Market logo and gear items on the Web site.  We learned at the Bash that teens like free stuff, so the free summer gear lineup included t-shirts, ball caps, frisbees, beach balls, dog tags, bandanas and rubber band bracelets.  Winter gear includes snowboard caps, snowboard stickers and long-sleeved t-shirts.

Summer events – Teens ideas generated at the Bash became reality during a summer brimming with high-impact activities designed to brand the movement and augment recruiting efforts.

Target Market Cruisers – Two 16-foot panel trucks emblazoned with the TM logo and outfitted with a retro teen lounge criss-crossed the state, hitting hundreds of teen events and hangouts.  The Cruisers’ interactive kiosks allowed teens to videotape and e-mail a message to Big Tobacco.  More than 5,500 teens signed on as TM members at Cruiser events.

State Fair – With music blaring and a funky design, the Target Market State Fair booth was a mecca for teens attending the great Minnesota get-together.  Nearly 2,500 teens signed on as TM members.  

Second round of ads – The second round of ads illlustrating the “why we’re mad” phase of the campaign by exposing previously secret tobacco industry documents, were launched in early September and again featured TM members and a launch press conference.

Post-Summer events

Mall of America – A retro teen lounge was set up in one of the Mall’s retail courts during its two-week back-to-school promotion.  We produced an insert for the Mall’s Back-to-School Survival guide, TM banners and gear were featured during the many teen fashion shows,  and TM was included in the Mall’s promotional advertising.

Document Tour – As teens returned to school, the TM Document Tour hit the road.  The interior of an 18-wheeler was decked out to look like an alleyway and a sampling of the more outrageous tobacco industry documents illustrating their strategies to target teens was highlighted.  The Tour made stops at middle schools throughout the state.

TMCD/TMCD Statewide Band Tour – Music is a teen’s first love, so we created a compilation music CD of hot local bands and called it the “Soundtrack of a Revolution.”  Teens chose the bands and the tracks and designed the CD cover.  The release of the CD was followed by a statewide tour that featured several of the bands on the CD.  The tour played all-ages shows in coffee shops, skateboard shops and record stores.  

Target Market Upper Midwest Snowboard Series – It was no accident that we chose to associate Target Market with  the hottest extreme winter sport around.  The 12-week Snowboard Series hit ski areas throughout the state and provided an opportunity to create visibility for Target Market and recruit new members.

Media promotions – The weight of the ad buy resulted in media partners statewide being eager to work with TM on value-added programs.

Last Chance Summer Dance – This end-of-summer outdoor concert sponsored by Twin Cities teen blockbuster station KDWB was the summer’s best venue for reaching teens.  

Battle of the Bands – Music is an integral part of teens’ lives.  Working with KMSP-TV and the Beat 96, TM conducted a statewide contest to find the best teen band.  Winners won gift certificates for musical equipment, a recording session and the chance to perform live on KMSP-TV’s broadcast from the Minnesota State Fair.


Measurement criteria

Target Market teen membership – 18-month goal is 5,000 teens

Broad media coverage – Goal is for teens to deliver the messages

Buzz – Get teens talking about Target Market and thinking it’s cool

Ad saturation 


Nearly 20,000 teens have signed on as members of Target Market, a number that is nearly quadruple our 18-month goal.  Members hail from all 87 Minnesota counties.  

More than 4 million media impressions have been generated.  More than the sheer numbers has been the important strategy of making teens the messenger whenever possible, illustrating the teen empowerment essence of the campaign.  

Teens are inundated by Target Market audio, television, billboard, transtop and convenience store ads.  Ads have statewide reach and are featured on teen-oriented radio stations and TV programming. has become a place teens go for the latest information on the movement and the site’s Bulletin Board has evolved into a most lively chat room on a whole host of issues.  The site has logged over a million hits since it’s late-April launch.