9/11 Smoking Ad makes it to Epica Awards

It’s been a year since I posted the 9/11 Anti-Smoking Ad on this blog. The ad which was published on 11 September in Khaleej Times had sparked quite a strong debate online. New York copywriter and blogger Copyranter won a prize  given by Bill Green for spotting this post and comments poured in. Posted on Reddit, the ad pulled in more than 200 comments. And it had all started when friends at Percept had mailed me the ad for putting up on this blog. Here’s what we are talking about:

Anti-smoking ad published in Khaleej Times, Dubai, UAE on 11 September

Anti-smoking ad published in Khaleej Times, Dubai, UAE on 11 September

Sudeep Koshy, who was the copywriter on this ad, called me a couple of days back to give me some interesting news. This ad has made to the EPICA Awards. Page 116, 21st Edition (2008) Public Awareness category. My blog is where it was first featured online – and although I don’t consider CopywriterJournalist.com an ad showcase blog (the world is full of them), this was an ad that had stopped me in my tracks and go uhummm. So I guess many other people feel the same way too.

This is what Sudeep says about the ad that created quite a stir: “When the idea was conceived, it was never thought to stir up any controversy. Because, the intention and message of this ad is right up there, unmistakable, in cold fact and bare figures. Besides, the context also mattered: The ad was released on 9/11 of course, which was THREE days before UAE banned smoking in public places.”

Do you think this ad is offensive? Is it right to say that it is borrowed interest or that the creatives exploited a tragedy? Have you done an ad that makes people look at it twice and go hmmm? Comments most welcome…

Liked what you read? Share your views and comments below:
About Farrukh Naeem at www.copywriterjournalist.com

Farrukh Naeem is the Managing Editor of CopywriterJournalist.com. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. His blog is at FarrukhNaeem.com


  1. Sudeep Koshy says:

    Dear Blake/Michael,

    It’s almost two years since you posted your comments and it’s obviously longer since I checked out this post. It would take another coincidence for you to see my response like the one that got me to see your posts this late.

    Other than an ad by DDB New Zealand that followed 5 months after my ad was released, I am not aware of any similar thoughts or executions of my 9/11 ad.

    Nevertheless, I acknowledge the possibility of a creative thinker stumbling upon it much before I did. How many times do we come across a web domain that we deem as brilliant and unique yet cannot be registered in our own names, just because apparently someone thought about it earlier and thus got it registed already?

    The same holds true with ad ideas as well.

    Even though many times, an uncanny resemblance points to nothing but deliberate plagiarisation, I ask of you to grant the possibility of a coincidence that other minds are also capable of thinking up stuff.

    This ad was created by an advertising mind that has evaluated communication effectiveness, for more than 15 years, in terms of receiver conversion and not in the form of award sculptures in the showcase. Hence you may rest assured that it is not a case of a rip-off, absolutely.

    One thing that should make us all happy is that we are all working towards the same cause (eradication of smoking ill-effects in this case). Just in case any of you did it only for the sake of recognition, shame on YOU.

    For one, I believe, if a writer deserves an award, he better write, not advertise.


    SJK (Ideator of the 2007 anti-smoking ad)

  2. Michael Miller Yu says:

    Dear Editors , I was shocked to learn that the copycat of my poster design has got an award from the world renowned EPICA competition in 2007 ! My poster design ” No More Killing ” was released on the 2nd of October 2001 right after the 911 attack .
    the visual was two burning cigarettes standing upright like the twin towers of WTC . And had been widely reported among 15,000 news media through AP and many news agencies .Up to now my poster design has been copied by Korean Designer , Chinese Designer and more . . . Michael Miller Yu and Eric Chan / Hong Kong

  3. I love that this guy has the audacity to lay claim to this ad, and shamelessly takes the glory that comes with it, when it’s a poorly executed rip off done two years before he did. Just another example of Dubai plagiarism. Shame on you Sudeep Koshy, you rip off artist.

  4. (You’re correct on cr. I Though you were referring to something I may have run on my blog. I still wear the Kevin Bacon wristband with pride. ;-p )

  5. Hi bg,

    Thanks for taking the time to share what you feel. It helps me see this ad with the eyes of a New Yorker.

    Surely, I can understand the feeling of losing someone or many people you know – to an attack or a disease. The loss hurts all the same.

    Personally, I am against advertising that has to offend people’s sensibilities in order to shock them. I would never be happy writing an ad that hurts people’s sentiments/beliefs just for the sake of atttention.

    As far as this anti-smoking ad goes, the fact that it has now been awarded by an international jury at EPICA (most likely with US judges too) would make me think that it has some merit in the eyes of a larger global audience. But again, I agree with you that there is never a need to offend people to get noticed.

    (There is a link in my post above to Copyranter where a Bacon Wristband was mentioned as a prize from MTLB for spotting this ad – maybe I got something mixed up.)


  6. To clarify one more point: While Americans may not be the target audience, when we see things like this it still bothers us.

  7. I think people need a different point of view from the audience who’s actually offended.

    The issue of smoking is different than the issue of 9/11. While the attitude that ‘Any PR is good PR’ works, the best agencies in the world here in the U.S. still have not felt the need to exploit that day for any product, so it can be done.

    (The Truth work in this country along with the Congressional testimony by big tobaccoo companies 10 years ago has resulted in Americans now smoking 28% less.

    That it was done domestically with far more shocking, far more graphic work (singing ad icon The Marlboro Man with a voice box, etc.), shows that the goal can be reached without exploiting a national tragedy in the messaging.)

    So looking at the ad, the only thing connecting the two themes is body count, and certainly, there could have been more intriguing ways to use statistics as metaphor to achieve this. (Again, look at some of the guerilla street work done by Truth using body counts.)

    As for 9/11, it’s clear the rest of the world could care less about that day as evidenced in many ads I’ve seen. That’s fine. But to not recognize the significance the event has on an audience who is connected to it in many ways displays a high degree of ignorance. (Most of us in the immediate NY area were about one degree of separation from someone directly affected, either through rescue effort or injury. I have a body count I can give you if you like of people I know who lost someone. You likely have no idea of the extent of the anger still felt here.)

    It’s the same outrage Muslims feel when they find out an idiot in the service flushes a Qur’an down a toilet, or when a Dutch cartoonist draws inflammatory illustrations about prophets.

    In that context, I guess it’s okay then? Sell whatever you want using whatever methods? Fine. Just understand the ramifications of your audience and don’t act surprised when people complain.

    (To clarify, I don’t recall posting an award for finding the ad, but copyranter has always noted ads on his blog from international agencies using 9/11 themes.)

  8. CJ,

    Only a few, and thats done by others.
    why can’t we create something?

  9. Hi Saljo,

    So much can be done. But the change for smokers must come from within. I think. Do we have ads that can make this happen?


  10. Hey Louai,

    You’re doing a good job spotting copy cats on your blog. Keep up the exposes!


  11. farrukh,

    happen to see this post very late 😉 Its now become a global problem. By banning public smoking here in dubai people can breath much! But still there are people who smoke in public places. Passive smoking was a big problem here. Why can you start an online campaign? why can’t we circulate mails on anti-smoke awareness?

  12. it is called copy cat ads 😉

  13. Hey Nayaab,

    That’s a great website you’ve posted – with the word ‘twins’ referring to similar ads.

    There’s more than two versions of this execution – some very similar in copy as well. Now that’s scary too!


  14. Very true, Lirun.

    You’ve gone even deeper into the harmful effects of smoking. Amazing how one picture can spark off so many thoughts and discussions, isn’t it?

  15. Welcome Zarreen… yes the message is pretty loud. On both sides of the debate :-)


  16. Salaamz Farrukh
    A late response I suppose but i discovered this a little later and was take aback that this idea is not an original!


    Although I’m hoping for the sake of an industry plagued with plagiarism accusations, that this was a case of “great minds think alike”…

  17. amazing ad.. very offensive.. and for good reason..

    its not being exploited.. but rather harvested to highlight an even huger tragedy..

    the death that are smoking related are just one element – the environmental damage is another – the wasted resource that could be diverted to life saving and qualifty of life improving causes is yet another..

    smoking is a huge global tragedy.. this ad should be echoed with “scared cows” from all over..

  18. Zarreen Poonawala says:

    It is indeed an interesting piece of information. and unless something does’nt trigger yourthoughts its difficult to get it registered. I believe that such type of messages clubbed with some sensitivity does make a lot of diference. Ultimately the main idea is the message is heard and ‘pretty loud’

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