'Stoptober' – New Starts aren't only for January


Despite recent drops, 21% of people in England still smoke. The UK Department of Health aims to reduce this to 18.5% by the end of 2015. For smokers, January is typically the time of year to quit smoking as a New Year's Resolution. This is the story of Stoptober, a public health programme unlike anything before. Stoptober combined grassroots involvement with advertising, fuelled by real time planning and response, to create a new peak in smoking quit attempts. Stoptober was an unprecedented success, with October 2012 seeing more quit attempts than January for the first time ever.


Department of Health (Public Health England), UK


Historically, the Department of Health has had great success in driving January quit attempts, but wanted to add an additional peak to the year. New insights told us that if people quit for 28 days they are 5 times more likely to stay smoke-free. Working with a cross-agency team we created Stoptober, a 28-day mass participation event. For Stoptober to be successful, it needed to be a big public idea which rallied the interest of everyone – not just smokers, we needed to create a society-sized movement.

Strategy and Solution

MEC's contribution was to shape the campaign: we knew that in order to be successful, Stoptober needed to be more than a TV ad with some CRM support. We had to create a living social movement which would invade the public's consciousness. Smokers needed to feel that everyone was quitting and everyone knew about it regardless of whether they smoked or not.

We did this by creating a truly social and real-time initiative. We invested heavily in paid broadcast media to give the event scale and utilised social channels to create a sense that Stoptober was a living social movement. We listened to conversations in real time, creating twice daily social reports for the Department of Health and the agency team which identified themes and turned them into engaging content. For example, when we noticed people making Stoptober badges, we created a twibbon widget, to help people show their support more easily.

The success was in thoughtful, adaptive execution. For example, from day 1 to day 28 we ran different stories highlighting the benefits of being involved, such as 'Day 11. No, your cooking hasn't improved, it's just your taste buds returning'. This was implemented across TV/press/radio and digital. In press alone we ran 21 different executions!


The campaign was an unprecedented success. Journalists wrote about it, Hollywood stars tweeted it, but more importantly people quit. University of Central London data shows that 9.1% of smokers tried to quit in October 2012 – compared to an average of 6.3%, the equivalent of 240,000 additional quit attempts. In fact, more people quit in October last year than in January! Other data suggests the campaign was instrumental in this increase. Over 500,000 support products were ordered (including our entire supply of 150,000 Stoptober Kits), 1.3m visited the Smokefree website (vs 201,000 in 2011) and 60,000 new fans joined the Facebook page (and received peer support and continue to receive help).

‘Stoptober was a huge success and surpassed all expectations in terms of engagement and response.’ – Caroline Fox, Head of Tobacco Marketing, Department of Health

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