Swedish Billboard Coughs At Smokers

By Kelly Burch 01/19/17

The ad is designed to promote anti-smoking aids.

Coughing billboard in Sweden
Photo via YouTube

A Swedish pharmacy is getting creative about smoking cessation, with a billboard that coughs when someone lights up a cigarette near it. 

The digital ad, located in a busy area of Stockholm, uses sensors to detect cigarette smoke and the glow of a cigarette. Once that happens, a man on the billboard starts coughing, providing an unexpected reminder about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke. Then the ad displays an array of anti-smoking aids.

"All smoking is a problem for people who smoke, if not now, later. Just recently Sweden introduced warning pictures on all cigarette packs. Why? Because smoking is not good for you. You can't get too many reminders about this,” said a spokesperson for Åkestam Holst, the ad agency that made the campaign. 

The design is meant to help people live a healthier lifestyle, according to Fredrik Kullberg, marketing director for Apotek Hjärtat, the drugstore behind the ad. "We have a strategy to make communications that touches people and are always thinking about how to make the communication worth talking about," Kullberg told CNBC.

The billboard has garnered a lot of attention, with videos of it going viral around the world. In one video, passersby are surprised when the man on the billboard starts coughing. That clip has been viewed nearly 600,000 times on Apotek Hjärtat's Facebook and YouTube pages. "It's one of the most cost-efficient campaigns I've ever made," Kullberg said. 

The coughing campaign is timed for the new year, since quitting smoking is a popular New Year's resolution. It’s too early to know the campaign’s effect on sales, but Kullberg said that the buzz surrounding the interactive display shows that this type of advertising will do well in the future. "Using technology but meeting with real life and using the digital displays in innovative ways, going forward it's really exciting," he said.

The billboard is getting a lot of attention, but Sweden has the lowest smoking rate of any country in the European Union, at just 13%, according to 2012 figures. Despite that, the billboard has caught people lighting up, with one man staring at the ad while continuing to smoke, and another woman laughing after realizing that her secondhand smoke had triggered the coughing fit. 

See the coughing billboard in action below:

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.