Advertising, Consumer Insight

How my wife got me to quit smoking.

There are those who swear that the greatest human invention is writing.

That is nonsense.

It is tobacco.

So I believed when I smoked.

I’ve been clean nine years now. But I smoked for seventeen years before quitting. I know that is scarcely deserving of any recognition considering a friend’s grandpa smoked till his nineties. He died on his bed with a big smile on his face and a half-smoked cigarette by his side. He was our hero.

I smoked at least five cigarettes every day of those seventeen years. Between 2006 and 2011, I smoked at least twenty cigarettes a day. A result of rising income and common sense; it was cheaper to buy packs than sticks. And as every smoker knows, the more cigarette you have on you, the more you smoke.

My lungs — brave things — were the worse for wear. A medical check I did at the height of my powers reported I had the lungs of a seventy-year-old. I was in my mid-thirties.

Hmm. Lungs of a seventy-year-old. That must explain why I was full of wisdom for my age.

The worst times of my life were when I had to get on a plane for more than one hour. Six hours on a plane without a cigarette was a torturous experience. It is next to waterboarding. I’ve seen Zero Dark Thirty.

So, I developed a love for lay-over flights. I have been known to fly from Lagos to London through Schiphol rather than fly directly to Heathrow. So I could stop over and smoke.

You might well sneer: “But it takes roughly the same hours to fly from Lagos to London as it does Lagos to Amsterdam Schiphol. What’s the logic?”

You simple creatures!

Yes, it does take about the same amount of time. But waiting at passport control takes anywhere between forty to fifty agonising minutes. Emphasis on “agonising”. For your education, it takes five minutes of oxygen deprivation for the human brain to die. I assert that it takes the same amount of time for a chain-smoker’s brain to die without nicotine. It’s only by a colossal miracle that said smoker’s brain is still alive six hours after such lengthy privation. So, I never push my luck. Every minute snatched from privation is an extra minute to live.

By the way, Heathrow is the worst airport ever built. No place to smoke until you leave the terminal building. Thoughtless piece of architecture. Bless your hearts Schiphol, Changi and DXB!

Next to being stranded on a plane without nicotine is waking up in the middle of the night to no cigarette. Situations like that makes people do crazy things.

On one such occasion, I’d got up from bed beside the missus. It was about three in the morning. I needed to smoke. But I had no cigarette in the house. So I got into the car and drove out of the house. 24-hour stores in Lagos were and are still non-existent. Except for a few mallams — lone, owner-run, informal and tiny retail shops that dot the city.

I found one of these mallams open. Different strands of humanity milled around the stall smoking cigarette and cigarette’s elder brother (if you expect me to spell out cigarette’s elder brother as marijuana, you must take me for a snitch).

But there is a camaraderie among smokers that only robbers share. It doesn’t matter if you know the person or not. Once you light a cigarette, trust and solidarity ensues. I and my strange bed-fellows nodded acknowledgment of one another’s presence. We smoked in silence and understanding.

I returned home with my spirit in high spirits.

My beauteous wife, of course, hated that I smoked. I reminded her that love conquers all. Once she resorted to threats and vowed there would be no kissing me anytime I smoked. If I smoked and wanted a kiss, I’d have to brush my teeth first.

What? Didn’t dentists say we only need to brush twice a day? Besides, we’d be spending too much money on toothpaste!

Then one evening.

We were curled up against each other on the sofa watching Father of The Bride. The movie got to the part where Steve Martin handed over his daughter to her heartthrob. It was an emotional affair. My wife casually said:

“You know, if you continue smoking, you may not be around to give Nimi (our daughter) away on her wedding day.”

Kaboom!

In those seconds, I teleported to my daughter’s wedding day. Some guy was walking her down the aisle. He was not me. He was more handsome. Richer too. And everybody seemed to like him. He handed my daughter over to the love of her life. My daughter mouthed ‘I love you, dad’. The bloke returned to sit beside my wife. He kissed her on the lips. My picture was nowhere in sight.

I gave up smoking a few months later. On my daughter’s first birthday.

The right message.

The right moment.

Lessons for advertising creatives, planners and media buyers.

Many marketing campaigns are vanilla because they lack a deep penetrating insight. An understanding of motivations. The desire to create iconic campaigns should be first a desire to ferret a piercing truth. It’s painstaking and grunt work. But it has a solid gold payoff.

I’d seen loads of gruesome tobacco ads. They were water of a duck’s back. In my part of the world, with regards to death, you’d usually hear hedonists say “something is always going to get you”. In my case I was content for that something to be tobacco.

But my wife discovered what turned my crank. She knew I loved my daughter. Knew I’d want the best for her and be there at the important moments in her life. She tapped into it. It triggered a flow of emotion. She got the desired result.

Motivations and insights are often understated and creative work overstated. We glory more in the the craft and cleverness of the creative execution. Those elements are obviously just as important as the insight. But what is the beauty of the Aventador if the engine is a Kia?

No disrespect, Kia. Just that, you know, you are Kia.

Right.

Oh, have I told you how I also quit drinking?

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