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BADvertising Successes

Since 1986 Bonnie Vierthaler and The BADvertising Institute have been on the front lines of tobacco prevention with a powerful counter-advertising message. Reaching out through exhibits, posters and billboards, slides presentations, hands-on BADvertising Workshops, Train-the-Trainer Seminars and an award-winning web site, we have been quietly planting seeds. Over the years our mission has been to immunize kids against tobacco, inspire smokers to quit, and equip advocates and educators with the tools for their message a creating a powerful visual impact.In 1987, with the assistance of a group of doctors, students and community members from Lancaster County, PA we mailed a set of BADvertising posters to every school in the US from fourth grade up—hundreds of people gathered together for two long days to send 120,000 bposters to 30,000 schools!In 1992, our Smooth Reaper sounded the death knell for Joe Camel and the funeral procession soon followed. In 1995, we launched our original BADvertising web site—one of the first anti-tobacco sites on the web. Back then, most people had never even heard of the World Wide Web…remember when?Knowing the power of the creative process itself, in 1996, we began offering BADvertising Workshops and Train-the-Trainer Seminars to get everyone involved in the action.We have used our powerful graphic BADvertising images and techniques to actually change attitudes and behavior by:

  • Graphically exposing the truth behind the advertising.
  • Revealing the deceitful tactics used to hook innocent children.
  • Reversing glamorous imagery in the ads to make smoking seem "un-cool".
  • Getting people enraged at how they’re being targeted, manipulated, used and abandoned by the tobacco companies.
  • Demonstrating the importance of using graphic images in creating an effective counter-advertising campaign.
  • Establishing the importance of engaging people of all ages in the creative process.
  • Offering BADvertising methods and materials to tobacco control advocates, educators and teen leaders to increase their effectiveness in communicating about the tobacco issues.

What is the measure of our success? Judging from the mailbox filled with thank-you letters, many saying, "Thanks, you’ve saved my life" and the encouraging sequence of events around the country, our presence has undoubtedly been felt:

  • CA instituted a strong tobacco prevention program with a powerful counter-advertising component in 1990. Their effort has resulted in a reduction of adult smokers from 27 percent of the population down to 18 percent.
  • On March 11, 2000, Yahoo announced that "the City of Berkeley (CA) is holding an art contest to help its many students to learn about the dangers of tobacco use and addiction. According to a spokeswoman for the city's health department, the Artists Resisting Tobacco contest will offer $1,600 in prizes to encourage students to create images and messages that reflect what she called ‘the deceptiveness of the tobacco industry’."

Starting in 1986, the BADvertising images were being circulated and promoted in publications and conferences by STAT [Stop Teenage Addiction to Tobacco] then based in California. BADvertising posters and slide kits have had a strong presence in numerous CA health education programs ever since.

  • Massachusetts initiated a strong counter-advertising campaign in 1993; a survey released in March of 2000 recorded a 15 percent decline in smoking by high school students since 1995.

The BADvertising images were already well recognized in MA in the late 80’ and promoted to health educators statewide in the early 90’s. The BADvertising slides and posters continue to be a part of many MA health education programs.

  • More recently, Florida has been recognized for setting the standard for the nation in how to conduct a results-oriented anti-tobacco campaign.

"Florida is accomplishing what many health experts once considered nearly impossible: It is making smoking an "uncool" activity among teenagers. That is, the state is persuading teens not only that it is unhealthy to light up a cigarette, but that kids are being manipulated by the tobacco industry. It is a message served up in irreverent, in-your-face television advertisements designed and approved by Florida teens and intended entirely for a teenage audience. They've been running for two years on Florida TV stations as part of a wide-ranging and aggressive antitobacco campaign that is proving far more successful than anyone predicted. (then the pro-tobacco legislators radicaly cut their budget) A recent statewide survey shows that, within the past two years, smoking declined by 54 percent among middle school students and by 24 percent among high school students. That translates to roughly 80,000 students who are not smoking today.

"They are the most dramatic results we've seen in youth smoking from any of the comprehensive programs we've seen implemented," says Danny McGoldrick, director of research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington. "They provide astounding evidence that comprehensive, well-funded antitobacco programs work." (From the Christian Science monitor, March 7, 2000)

In 1993 The BADvertising Institute contributed BADvertising posters to the teen group that was the forerunner to the Florida teen campaign. In the mid 90’s the student coordinator called on the BADvertising Institute for strategizing advice when they were in the organizational stages of their now legendary Truth Campaign.

Today the CDC is mandating the use of massive, well-funded counter-advertising campaigns as a major component in their over-all tobacco prevention guidelines…Legislators are calling for the use of stronger graphics in tobacco prevention programs.

Over the years the BADvertising Institute has stood firmly for the truth in the face of the powerful tobacco companies, never compromising the power of our images or our message, providing a small but effective role model for young people, activists and educators alike.

To all of you out there on the front lines today, especially the young people, we would like to say ‘Thanks for picking up the ball and running with it! Bravo! But don’t let the little victories go to your head, I assure you the larger battle has only begun. Keep up the good work!"

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© 1995, 2000, 2005 Bonnie Vierthaler