Peers + Persuasion

Reaching everyone by exposing lies (rebel) was a new jersey department of health program going toe-to-toe with big tobacco. It needed not only to reach teens where they live, but also to move them in the face of powerful forces.



A $10.5 billion foe.

Tobacco companies relentlessly target teens, children. They even refer to them as “replacement smokers” for dying customers. And it works. Eighty percent of smokers begin using tobacco before age 18. In New Jersey, 19,700 teens were becoming daily smokers every year. Research showed that teens are strongly resistant to anti-smoking messages. In fact, traditional anti-smoking messages were making them more inclined to smoke. The one exception is anti-smoking messages delivered by their friends, their peers. Using this narrow path, Square360 set out to take on Big Tobacco.



Grunge, wit, and facts.

Square360 developed a grungy and energetic online aesthetic for REBEL. It highlighted a strong peer-to-peer message featuring teen tour guides, Ben and Christie. The wise-cracking duo spoke directly to their fellow students telling them where to go on the site and how to get involved. Teens then had the opportunity to engage directly through student-led blogs and crowd-sourced ranking for smoking facts. Or they could just be entertained with anti-smoking parodies. Another novel approach for disseminating facts and generating attention for the movement was making it possible for teens to send custom voicemails to friends from New Jersey celebrities.

We also armed REBEL with social media weapons. On Facebook, we created The Swindler, a projectile-throwing game that heckled a tobacco executive. Square360 also designed an anti-tobacco Facebook widget that displayed two numbers:  the number of people who added badge to their profile, and the total number that person recruited to join the REBEL cause.

Lastly, Square360 created a campaign of digital ads that communicated the message online at and were contextually integrated into some of the hottest online game environments such as Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground, Guitar Hero III and Transformers.



A model for success.

Traffic for the new REBEL website tripled, with over 34,000-page views in only the first three months. More important, the number of smokers decreased 10% in the eight years of New Jersey anti-tobacco programming.

Although funding for all New Jersey anti-smoking initiatives was discontinued, REBEL remains a model concept for schools across the country. Individual schools continue to self-fund REBEL and REBEL2 programs for high school and middle school children to fight back against Big Tobacco.