How one agency is using tobacco merchandising to show deadly effects of loneliness

Over the festive period, Revolt London wants to amplify research stating social disconnection is as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

12 December 2023

Purpose-driven agency Revolt London has released a winter campaign tackling loneliness during a period when it’s often found at its peak. It responds to an international commission launched by the World Health Organisation on social connection stating that the phenomenon has “serious, and still under-recognised, impacts on our health and lifespan”.

According to a letter from the US surgeon general, loneliness can have as much of a mortality impact as 15 cigarettes a day, increasing our risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety and premature death. “While looking into something purposeful we could do for our Christmas windows, we came across this Guardian article about loneliness,” says Revolt. Struck by the stark comparison between smoking and isolation, Revolt has used the aesthetics popularised by tobacco companies and applied them to this new global health priority.

Loneliness Kills shares five acts that can begin to help tackle the issue of social isolation, which one in four older adults are currently experiencing according to global estimates. These include finding community over a shared cause, having a break from social media, and reaching out to strangers and friends alike, with simple gestures often going a long way in fostering reconnection. A deck of cards has also been developed to prompt conversation and nudge people from “a cycle of isolation”.

Revolt says cigarette branding and packaging has been used to evoke familiarity but also to show the stark reality of the seriousness of the issue – the look and feel of cigarettes has long been associated with deadly side effects.

“It was essential for us to tread carefully through this project; whilst leveraging these visuals for a positive intent, there was always a mindfulness of the negative connotations,” says Myron, head of design at Revolt London. “The goal was not to glamourise or normalise harmful habits but to repurpose existing visual cues, prompting reflection on how powerfully branding graphics can influence perception and behaviour. We aimed to challenge viewers to reconsider the narratives embedded in familiar imagery.”

GalleryRevolt London: Loneliness Kills (Copyright © Revolt London, 2023)

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Revolt London: Loneliness Kills (Copyright © Revolt London, 2023)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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