'Toxic Therapist' Fights Youthful Vaping


How do you convince young people that vaping, rather than relieving their stress, can actually exacerbate such conditions as anxiety, depression and sleeplessness?

How about an animated vape device -- the “Toxic Therapist”--  played by Chris Parnell, a recognizable voice to the target audience of 13- to 24-year-olds from his roles on “Rick and Morty” and other shows?

The humorous “Toxic Therapy from Your Vape” campaign, from nonprofit Truth Initiative and creative agency Mojo Supermarket, comes four months after two earlier campaigns,  “Depression Stick” and “Breath of Stress Air,” captured the Grand Effie award, given for marketing effectiveness



In the new campaign, Parnell dispenses bad advice in five :15 spots, three of which launched Oct. 1, with two in upcoming weeks. In one of the currently running ads, when friends don't respond to a boy’s text messages, the Toxic Therapist encourages him to jump to the conclusion that his friends are excluding him. In another, the Toxic Therapist tells viewers who can’t sleep to dwell on thoughts of past embarrassments until sunrise.

All spots end with a voiceover advising young people to “Find solutions at”

The campaign is running on connected TV, streaming TV, digital, and in cinemas, with media buying by the Gale agency. Audio and social media content is also included.

On Nov. 1, which is Stress Awareness Day, Truth says the Toxic Therapist will also be available to engage with youth via a Snapchat filter that allow users to experience what it would feel like to interact with the “Toxic Therapist” via a simulated phone call.

Beyond the Toxic Therapy campaign, Truth also has an influencer-hosted TikTok series, “Everything Sucks Right Now” (@LetsStopSucking), that addresses topics like vaping, relationships and the environment.

The Effie jury last spring said that Truth had effectively challenged the billion-dollar vaping industry through its two earlier campaigns. One of those used a fictional vape company called Depression Stick to convey how vaping can intensify anxiety and depression. The other was designed to debunk the myth that vaping is a stress reliever.

Truth Initiative points to research showing that, over a 14-month period, its campaigns prevented 1.3 million 15-24 year-olds from starting to vape, slowed the progression among existing e-cigarette users, and encouraged quitting overall.

“As the colliding crises of youth e-cigarette use and mental health continue to plague our nation, ‘Toxic Therapy from Your Vape’ provides vital information for young people,” Truth Initiative’s chief marketing and strategy officer Elizabeth Kenny tells Marketing Daily. “In addition to shedding light on the misconception that vaping nicotine helps alleviate stress and anxiety, it also provides young people with resources to cope and quit.”  

She adds: “When we give young people the facts, they make informed decisions." 

Over 2.5 million high school and middle age students vaped nicotine last year, Truth Initiative says, with 46% of high school vapers doing so on a daily basis.

Its research also shows that over 80% of young people start vaping to reduced feelings of stress, and that 90% of quitters report feeling less stressed, anxious or depressed.

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