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Social Branding Case Study

A Social Branding® Program to Reduce Young Adult Tobacco Use

Tobacco companies have long realized that young adults (age 18 - 24) are a critical market. And despite public health progress with teens and older adults, the tobacco industry has maintained the upper hand with this age group. Unfortunately, there are few interventions effectively discouraging young adult smoking. This case study summarizes a novel program to reduce young adult tobacco use that uses the Social Branding® behavior change model.



The Audience

Formative research focused on a concept called peer crowds—the macro-level connections between peer groups with similar interest, lifestyles, influencers, and habits. Rescue has discovered that while a young person has a local peer group s/he socializes with, that person and his/her peer group belong to a larger “peer crowd” that share significant cultural similarities across geographic areas.

Peer crowds were identified and assessed via preliminary interviews, focus groups and surveys. Four peer crowds were discovered at San Diego, CA bars and clubs: Partier, Urban, Hipster and LGBT. Based on this research, ‘Hipsters’ were identified as the highest risk young adult peer crowd in San Diego and selected as the target audience for this new program.

The Program

Rescue implemented its Social Branding strategy to tackle this challenge. Social Branding is a behavior change marketing strategy that uses peer-crowd-targeted social brands to associate healthy behaviors with certain desirable lifestyles through interactive and highly stylized marketing tactics. To begin, a social brand was developed to target Hipsters — “Commune: A movement of artists, designers, musicians and people that take a stand against tobacco corporations and their presence in the scene.”

The campaign used multiple channels to deliver the message. Promotional activities encouraged young adults to attend branded bar and club nights. The events were carefully designed to be consistent with community values and prominently featured different local artists, bands and designers at each event. Young adults recognized as influencers within the community distributed the anti-tobacco message at events and spread it via social interactions. To ensure messages were authentic, Rescue partnered with local artists and clothing designers to create a unique message every month. These local artists and clothing designers refreshed the campaign’s message every month, creating over 100 unique works of art that included relevant facts about tobacco use, tobacco companies and their practices worldwide. More importantly, these influential members of the community became vocal advocates for the campaign’s message. Finally, bar-based cessation groups were developed to support young adults interested in quitting smoking.

The Messages

With the help of influential local artists and Rescue’s in-house creative team, this program used hundreds of authentic, artistic and educational creative elements

Bar-Based Quit Group Promo

Video Introducing Artists From A Recent Campaign

To see more program materials, visit these links:
Commune Website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Vimeo
Feel free to browse, but please resist the temptation to comment or post on these channels to preserve the authenticity of the community.

The Evaluation

A study conducted by Dr. Pamela M. Ling with the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, UCSF found that over the course of the campaign there was a significant decrease in daily smoking from 22.0% to 14.8%. When looking at any smoking (including both daily and nondaily), smoking decreased from 55.6% to 48.1%. For a complete case study including evaluation results, click here to receive the Case Study PDF via email.

Over the course of the campaign there was a significant decrease in daily smoking from 22.0% to 14.8% within the young adult bar-going community where the targeted intervention was enacted. When looking at any smoking (including both daily and nondaily), smoking decreased from 55.6% to 48.1%. The largest decrease in smoking was among Hipsters who had received high scores on a survey assessing trend sensitivity, which was based on receptivity to tobacco promotions. This was the subgroup with the highest initial smoking rate, 72% at baseline, which decreased to 59.9%.

The positive outcome achieved during this study suggests that Social Branding interventions should be a part of effective public health strategy. By recognizing the importance of social leaders on young adult behavior and targeting the peer crowds at highest risk, Social Branding may provide a powerful tool for future tobacco prevention efforts targeting young adult populations.

Featured in The American Journal of Public Health

The Commune evaluation was recently published in the AJPH.

Read the published article

Full Case Study Download Including Evaluation Results

We have prepared a free PDF of this case study with a more thorough explanation of the Commune program and evaluation results.


More Information

The Commune program is available for replication in any community with a local young adult bar scene. For more information, please contact:

Tyler Janzen


Director of Client Services, State and Local Programs