Anti-smoking ad released on 9/11 in UAE – thought-provoking idea, copywriting and art direction

Anti-smoking ads are never in short supply, but this one published in Khaleej Times on 9/11 this year really made an impact on me. I think it’s a thought-provoking idea, backed by great compelling copy that makes one think and an image that sends a shiver down one’s spine.

911 anti-smoking ad for Khaleej Times by Perceptgulf Dubai UAE

Khaleej Times
Advertising Agency: Perceptgulf, Dubai, UAE
Creative Director: Prashant Sankhe
Copy: Sudeep John Koshy
Art Director: Prashant Yeware

“I thought it was an interesting take on the horrors of the terrible day,” says Prashant Sankhe, Creative Director at PerceptGulf, Dubai, UAE – the advertising agency which created the ad. “The same could happen to the human body too… if subjected to the terrors of smoking,” Prashant says drawing a parallel to the life-threatening risks of smoking.

So, how did this idea come up? This is how the story goes… Sudeep, the senior copywriter was surfing on the net late night and a bolt of an idea struck him as he was writing his dairy and looked at the date.

Well, that’s the official story. What I am thinking is, did he have anything dangling in his fingers in that creative moment which ‘sparked’ the idea? Only Sudeep can tell…

1. EcoTalk picked up this post and has showcased the above ad in their ‘Tobacco Control Images’ section. Why not visit them and see other anti-smoking ads? You might also want to read my earlier posts on tobacco advertising and advertising ethics.

2. Copyranter, blogging from New York, picked up this post and she feels that this ad is exploitation of the burning towers by an Arab country. While I can understand that this ad might touch the feelings of people who have lost someone on 9/11, I do not think the ad intends to hurt people’s sentiments or ‘exploit’ the image for selling a product. To me this social and pro-bono ad above is a grim reminder of thousands of people who die a death as unnecessary as the 9/11 tragedy. Also, the ad has been created by non-Arabs (evident from the credits above) for an English paper so I think the ‘Arabs exploiting 9/11’ spin is unnecessary and makes the ad more sensational than it really is.

Do you think this ad ‘exploits’ 9/11? Or do you think it drives home the point that a death by smoking (or poverty or war)is as much a cause for concern as one caused by a terrorist attack? Comments invited…

Liked what you read? Share your views and comments below:


  1. Simon Shack says:

    My warmest compliments:

    Your brilliant awareness-ad contains 2 positive messages:

    1: To most people who still believe thousands of people died in the WTC towers on 9/11, you will scare the sh@t out of them and they’ll immediately quit smoking.

    2. To the smaller (but growing) number of people who know that no people died in the empty/evacuated WTC towers, your ad brings comfort and hope to all smokers in the world: They’ll know they can get away with it !


    Again – much respect for this inspired (*cough*cough) ad !

  2. My warmest compliments:

    Your brilliant awareness-ad contains 2 positive messages:

    1: To most people who still believe thousands of people died in the WTC towers on 9/11, you will scare the sh@t out of them and they’ll immediately quit smoking.

    2. To the smaller (but growing) number of people who know that no people died in the empty/evacuated WTC towers, your ad brings comfort and hope to all smokers in the world: They’ll know they can get away with it !

    (relevant article :”THE 9/11 MEMORIAL SCAMS” – to be found at the website wwwDOTseptembercluesDOTinfo)

    Again – much respect for this inspired (*cough*cough) ad !

  3. does this work?
    what happened to simon shack’s comment?

  4. Nadeem Anjum says:

    well though message is just informative yet i believe its neither impressive nor strong. have you minutely observed the visual of twin towers. cigarettes are not placed in that far discussion about tragedy and statistics is concerned concede the comments of Mike.

  5. Hi Suleiman,

    You could create a public service campaign on behalf of your school. It could be a poster campaign – or any media which is easy and affordable for you to use.


  6. hi,
    Iam student and i have a wonderful idea about anti-smoking but don’t kown where to go and offer my idea.
    so pleace help.

  7. Welcome Yasin,

    This is one of those ads that has been loved much and hated much. Which is what makes it so interesting.


  8. Great ad Furrukh!

    Great impact.Great effect….

    Creative Manager
    Synergy Advertising

  9. Welcome Conan,

    Valuable art direction perspective you have posted in your comment. Thanks for sharing it.

    A very similar ad with almost almost the same message was published after this ad came out from another country. And it has been art directed with one cigarette smaller than the other.

    Also, the cigarette paper in the other ad has a lined texture that sort of resembles floors of a building.


  10. parisconan says:

    Great idea.
    I think the copy is right on. I believe that the visual aspect isn’t doing enough to push the message.

    Both of the cigarettes are the same height. A different approach might have been to have one cigarette burned further down than the other. Possibly with a long segment of ash either falling or leaning and about to fall. I believe that would have added to the dramatic punch that the message is missing.

    As it stands now it is still a terrific execution that supports the message. The suggested visual might have offered more of a destructive image of smoking.

  11. Welcome Askar – I do think smoking is by choice not by chance. Thanks for your insights.


  12. The advt juxtapose smoking to terrorism with great punch. It says that smoking is a social evil that should be eradicated like or terrorism and devastative power of smoking is rather more than terrorism. Again, most of people become the victim to smoking not because of their own will. Any how, idea of the ad has its own originality.

  13. Welcome Zioniv,

    Thanks for your insights. My colleague Tim, an Australian living in the UAE and speaking Spanish translated your comments for me.

    And it sounds all good!

    If you’d like to use this picture on your blog, kindly email me at, and I’ll let you know how.

    Your blog looks cool too!


  14. realmente bien esxplicado, la verdad es q
    ue es ingeniosa la reflexion que hace este comercial sobre lo innecesario de perder la vida por un cigarrillo, y si pensamos en las personas que no fuman perdo reciben este humo, es mucho mas doloroso aun. gracias un beso. y espero verles en mi pagina. yo siempre visito la de ustedes, por su buen criterio en el marketing y publicidad

  15. Thanks for your inputs, umd.


  16. hi farrukh,

    i think this is another example of visual analogies made of the events of september 11.

    however it is not a deliberate attempt to undermine the casualties of 9/11.

    more than anti-smoking ad it reminds me of 9/11.

    but, yes the attempt is commendable and am not a pearl crusher.

  17. Welcome to my blog, Mike

    First of all, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to post a well articulated response to this post.

    I agree with your point of view that between smoking and terrorism – one has a choice in the case of smoking to save themselves.

    Also, it’s very true that sometimes one death could have more impact than a 1000.

    In fact, we often see that 1 innocent death caused by, say, terrorism in one part of the world is talked about and gets media exposure a 1000 times more than 100,000 innocent deaths caused by, say, wars and sanctions in other parts of the world. But that’s another ad altogether.

    If you have a blog, point us to it, Mike. I’m sure you’d write great posts.

    Or if you’d like to set one up, let me know. I’d be happy to show you the ropes!


  18. Farrukh:

    As a copywriter myself (in the US), I’m not as moved by this ad as you.

    My problem with it is that while the visual is striking, the comparison doesn’t work. Smoking is not “terrorism.” It is a conscious choice made by people who know of the health effects. The people who died in the WTC did not have a choice.

    I don’t find the ad exploitive. I find it misguided. It reminds me of the quote (which I’m paraphrasing here) “One death is a tragedy, a 1000 deaths is a statistic.” This ad seems to imply that we should measure wrongs purely by “numbers,” that smoking is worse than the 9/11 tragedy because more people died. Not true. Any human life lost unnecessarily is a tragedy. However, when people choose to engage in a behavior that can be harmful to them, they have to take responsibility for the consequences. The people who walked into the WTC on 9.11 did not realize the risks they were taking that day. Smokers, on the other hand, do or at least should. The information is on every pack in most countries, I believe.


  19. Welcome Abs – yes – the ad hits us with grim realities.


  20. Pretty creative, hits the audience with emotions that connect to 9/11.
    Sneaky !

  21. Hi Dalbir,

    I would love to see the series – could you possibly provide a link?


  22. This was already done by MTV. They had a series and i think one was talking about smoking, the other about HIV etc…

  23. Hi Mahi,

    I wish I had done this one too 😉


  24. Hi Farruck, welcome back to posting. I was thinking of a a very similar kind of Idea for one of our client last year, and I was in India for a short trip that time and you will not believe , I ‘ve seen a 99% similar ad as i thought and this one. Was made for the public awareness campaign, done by DAVP running as wall posters in the hospitals. I took a shot on my mobile and If I can find that one I will send it to you. Sorry guys I know its happened… no offence

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