There are two Schools of Thought about clients.

School One: They are the enemy. You should avoid listening to them at all costs. And never, ever consider an idea they came up with – except at gunpoint.

School Two: They are your partner in the creative process and should be embraced to contribute thinking and ideas. They are part of the “democracy.” Yes, this sounds crazy, but the client might actually might have something to contribute. They might even be right!

Here’s a case where School Two helped us win the Grand Prize at this year’s Radio Mercury Awards.

The Process
The Washington State Department of Health tasked us to create a TV, radio and OOH campaign to get hardcore smokers to consider quitting by calling a state quit line. The problem with the majority of hardcore smokers is that most of them are at or below the poverty line. Conversely, smoking rates among the Washington’s working poor remains disproportionately high.

Traditional media campaigns and state programs to get them to quit have consistently failed. Because, while the economic woes and the harsh realities of life are crushing them, cigarettes are the only escape they have.

Strategically, the creatives had little to go on. That showed in the first round of with a campaign idea called “Quitforce,” an over-the-top public access/infomercial/workout show targeting smokers to exercise their “Quit Muscle.” We thought we had a brilliant concept: hilarious scripts, live webcasts, an actual public access show with audience participation, great PR buzz.

And then we presented it. And the client hated it.

They said it was contrived. (Okay, true.) Worse yet, they said they wanted “testimonial” advertising. Something similar to what the State of Massachusetts ran years ago with footage of hardcore smokers on their deathbeds. It was the client’s experience that testimonials were the only thing that moved the needle with hardcore smokers, because these were people in their shoes.

Ugh. According to School of Thought #1, what could be worse? A client kills your potentially award-winning work. And then rams an execution down your throat. And there’s nothing worse than testimonial advertising. Why not get a monkey to finish out the creative?

School of Thought #2 says, “Wait. Listen.” The client may have a point. These smokers won’t listen to anyone, especially state health authorities – “The Man” – telling them what’s good for them. As one smoker said in an early focus group, “The only person that can make me quit, is me!”


The agency creatives, planners and account folks attended the last remaining focus groups with a germ of an idea based on conversations with the client. To get hardcore smokers to listen to themselves, we needed to force them to talk to themselves.

So we asked them to write “Dear Me” letters to themselves about smoking. And then read them out aloud to the group.

It was cathartic. Like cutting open a vein with raw emotions spilling out everywhere, from everyone.

The Outcome
We picked several people from the groups to feature in documentaries that would be edited into radio and TV spots as well as Web content. We then hired Pulitzer Prize-winning filmmaker David Turnley, who had them re-write their letters in their own homes, recording the process and then interviewing them about the experience.

The radio campaign won this year’s Grand Prize at the Radio Mercury Awards, in a tie with work for Dos Equis Beer, splitting the $100,000. It was the first time a public service campaign had been given this honor. In the end, the WONGDOODY team decided to give all of the money to two cancer-related charities: the American Lung Association and the AYA (Adolescent/Young Adult) Cancer Alliance. Keep the good karma flowing..

To date, the “Dear Me” campaign has been picked up by 13 states and counting. On average, calls to each state’s quit lines have tripled. Not only is it good radio, but the work is saving lives.

Not bad for a stupid idea that the client shoved down our throat.