Bringing Statistics to Life for Teenagers

Bringing Statistics to Life for Teenagers

In our work to engage youth in tobacco prevention, we spend a lot of our time seeking breakthroughs. How can we package a story, a policy issue or a statistic in a way that breaks through to our youth and pushes them to take ownership of it? Statistics in particular can be difficult. In the fight against tobacco, we’re fortunate to have so many impactful statistics that support our work, but breakthrough moments are rarely the result of numbers alone.

Last year I had the privilege of working with the ISTEP youth council on concepts for a cessation media campaign targeting teens. We were working in collaboration with our Quitline Iowa vendor, and they had designed sample visual media pieces to get our youth’s perspective and feedback.

Although we ultimately did not move forward with the media campaign, the brainstorming session did provide insight on how to bring statistics to life for teens.

Use Powerful Imagery

rd-blogThe first example that we looked at was a black and white photo of a pair of jeans and shoes, with a blue logo blended into the image. A statistic was written over the image in white font. I can’t remember what the statistic was exactly, but the concept stood out for me.

When I asked the youth what they thought of the statistic, the group discussed and unanimously agreed that the photo in the background was completely uninteresting. When I asked about the statistic itself, the response I received was even more illuminating: youth didn’t even notice what was written in text, because their eyes were immediately drawn to the image.

The feedback on the remaining samples was similar. All of the statistics, while important, were presented in a boring way that didn’t effectively communicate the intended message to the youth. If we wanted to capture their peers’ attention, our youth said we would need to “bring the statistic to life.” The youth discussed making the image relate to the statistic. One of our youngest leaders raised her hand and suggested “if the statistic is ‘1 in 5,’ maybe the 1 person who is the smoker should be black and white and the other 4 members of the group can be in full color – to show living your life in full color.” A brilliant idea!

Being able to listen to the youth and hear their feedback was beneficial to us as adult coordinators and for the ad agency that we were working with as well. Although we ultimately were not able to run the original campaign with our vendor, we ultimately created a Live Your Life in Full Color campaign for social media.
The Life Your Life in Full Color campaign was based around the teens who are the majority of non-smokers, who live their life in full color. The discussion sparked by our youngest member put a fresh spin on the campaign – when you choose to use tobacco, all the color is filtered out of your life. Living tobacco free allows you to live your life to the fullest (in full color).

Visual First, Text Second

The takeaway for me when discussing statistics with teens is to identify visuals first and text second.

rd-blog-2Sure, you can share facts on social media or in a media campaign, but unless there is some great visual representation to go along with the words, the words will likely be over looked. For teens today, most focus is on the visual. If you can express a statistic solely as a visual, and keep the text to a minimum, you’re more likely to get noticed. This applies to social media content as well. You can post as many facts or statistics in writing as you would like, but if there is not a visual component to your content, don’t count on it being noticed by teens.

If you can’t bring the statistic to life with an image, then it’s probably not interesting enough to be impactful.

Erica Olmstead's journey with youth advocacy and tobacco control began as a youth advocate in New York with the Reality Check program. Over the past 12 years, she has continuously focused her efforts on empowering youth to advocate against corporate tobacco, first as a youth advocate, later as a Reality Check Program Coordinator and now as a member of the Youth Advocacy team at the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids in Washington, DC.


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