‘Tips from Former Smokers’ ads connect more than half a million people to tobacco cessation resources

February 19, 2016

The question: How effective was the “Tips From Former Smokers” (Tips) television campaign at driving traffic to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Tips campaign website?

The answer: The Tips television spots that aired from March 4 to June 21, 2013 – during the second year of the federally funded national tobacco education campaign – generated more than 660,000 unique visitors, 900,000 total visits and 1,390,000 page views for the CDC’s campaign website.

Paul Shafer

Paul Shafer

Paul Shafer, MA, doctoral student of health policy and management at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and research economist in the Center for Health Policy Science and Tobacco Research at RTI International, is lead author on a paper that shares these findings.

In “Association Between Media Dose, Ad Tagging, and Changes in Web Traffic for a National Tobacco Education Campaign: A Market-Level Longitudinal Study,” published online February 17 by the Journal of Medical Internet Research, Shafer shares the results of the first study to examine the relationship between varying doses of advertising for a national health education campaign and the magnitude of changes in campaign website traffic.

In 2013, the Tips campaign ads aired on national cable television networks, with supporting digital advertising (online video, display, mobile and paid search ads) to drive traffic to the CDC website. A significantly higher dose of digital video advertising was delivered in three media markets — Cleveland, Ohio; Sacramento, California; and Tampa, Florida.

“The unique contribution of this study is that we were able to capture variation in the media dose over time and across media markets, at the same level of detail as in web analytics, rather than simply comparing aggregated traffic before, during and after the campaign.” Shafer explains.

Collecting data at this granular level enabled Shafer and co-authors from RTI International and the CDC to compare web traffic fluctuations linked to two types of ad tagging employed in the 2013 Tips television spots.

About one-third of the television spots displayed the Tips website URL (http://www.cdc.gov/tips), while the other two-thirds promoted a 1-800-QUIT-NOW telephone hotline. Although ads tagged with the URL were more effective at driving traffic to the website, the team learned that the ads promoting the hotline still caused a significant boost in website views.

The researchers also found that, in the high-dose digital media markets (Cleveland, Sacramento and Tampa), the increased dose of digital video advertising was associated with substantial increases in web traffic. This finding is important, given that one of the primary functions of the Tips campaign website is to provide smokers with resources to help stop smoking, and many of the digital ads directly targeted people who were searching for information about quitting.

“It often takes smokers several attempts to finally quit smoking for good,” Shafer explains. “By finding that a dose-response relationship exists between campaign media and web traffic, we see that public health education campaigns can not only serve as a call to action, but also can connect people with resources that can help them be more successful at improving their health behaviors.”

Overall, the study found that the inclusion of campaign website URLS in traditional television ads, as well as targeted digital advertising strategies, can play a big role in increasing the use of health-related online resources. These findings can aid planners of other public health education campaigns to forecast the potential impact of advertising efforts on increasing the use of their online resources.


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu


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