Anti-youth-vaping advertisements that try to be cool or scare teens often don’t work well, according to Zach Keenen, creative group lead at marketing agency Haberman. This statement prompted Keenen and his team to take a different approach when the Minnesota Department of Health hired them to conduct a campaign. Instead of trying to be cool, they chose to create a character that embodies the opposite of whatever on-trend-coolness thing that kids are into right now. Thus, Norm Davidson, proprietor of 1-833-HEY-NORM, “Minnesota’s first and only teen-focused vape talk service,” was born.
Norm Davidson: The Opposite of Cool
Norm Davidson is aesthetically a little dated, which makes him the perfect pitchman for a youth-focused vaping campaign. When teens call 1-833-HEY-NORM, they’re greeted by Norm's voice, played by actor Tom Reed, saying, “Holy cow! You actually called. One second, let me finish my deviled eggs.” He then goes on to explain that vaping is dangerous, and it can be awkward for teens to share their concerns with friends who vape or are considering starting. Norm offers three options: if the caller would like him to speak with their friend, they should press 1; if they want advice on how to talk with a friend, they should press 2, and if they're interested in purchasing Norm’s used watercraft, they should press 6.
Norm was modeled on Saul Goodman, the sleazy lawyer played by Bob Odenkirk on “Breaking Bad” and later “Better Call Saul.” Keenen describes Norm as a kinder, gentler version of him who is very much a pitch guy. Norm has a business, and he's trying to create momentum around this campaign.
Why Fear-Based Messaging Doesn't Work
In Minnesota, the health department established a youth council that advised the state that it was inundated with fear-based messaging. Keenen concurs that “when you try to tell a teenager to do something, they are going to go the opposite direction.” The campaign featuring Norm was a success as it felt fresh and different from the other advertisements that were inspired by popular shows like “Stranger Things.”
The Minnesota Health Department invested $2 million in the campaign, which features an actual working hotline. The effort launched on March 6 with billboards around high-school basketball and hockey state championships in Minneapolis. The signs featured just the hotline number and the direction to “call now!” After the first billboards, before the campaign had even explained what the hotline was, 200 people called, according to Keenen.
In addition to billboards, the campaign also includes paid media on social media, streaming audio, and YouTube, among other mediums. Haberman has also worked with the state on a campaign to stop tobacco use among residents outside the Twin Cities, as well as African Americans and the Hmong community.
Anti-youth-vaping campaigns that try to scare teens or be cool are not effective in preventing vaping. Fear-based messaging inundates teens, while trendy advertisements can make vaping seem more attractive. Instead, campaigns like Norm's, which provide support and advice, could be more effective. By modeling Norm on Saul Goodman, the agency behind the campaign created a character that is the opposite of cool, making him more relatable to teens. The success of the campaign shows that a different approach can yield better results.
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Q1. What is the hotline number for Norm Davidson's vape talk service? A1. The hotline number is 1-833-HEY-NORM.
Q2. What options does Norm offer to callers? A2. Norm offers three options: if the caller would like him to speak with their friend, they should press 1; if they want advice on how to talk with a friend, they should press 2, and if they're interested in purchasing Norm’s used watercraft, they should press 6.
Q3. How much did the Minnesota Health Department invest in the Norm campaign? A3. The Minnesota Health Department invested $2 million in the Norm campaign.
Q4. Why are fear-based anti-vaping messages not effective? A4. Fear-based anti-vaping messages can inundate teens and make vaping seem more attractive. Additionally, telling a teenager not to do something can often lead to the opposite outcome.
Q5. What inspired the creation of Norm Davidson? A5. Norm Davidson was modeled on Saul Goodman, the sleazy lawyer played by Bob Odenkirk on “Breaking Bad” and later “Better Call Saul.” Keenen and his team wanted to create a character that was the opposite of cool and relatable to teens.