Case Study

Reducing Tobacco Use Among Multicultural Youth

The Challenge

In 2015, research showed that nearly 5 million African American, Hispanic, and Asian American and Pacific Islander youths aged 12–17 were either open to smoking or had already experimented with cigarettes.1 A large proportion of this audience lived in urban environments where, for decades, tobacco products have been marketed with highly stylized imagery and price promotions that normalize use and facilitate experimentation among young people.2

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) worked with Rescue to develop a health communications campaign that challenged norms, delivered tailored health messages, featured tobacco-free influencers, and genuinely connected with African American, Hispanic, and Asian American and Pacific Islander youth.

Audience Insights

Research by Rescue and others found that teens who identify with the Hip Hop peer crowd are more likely to use tobacco compared to other peer crowds.

Within the Hip Hop peer crowd, tobacco use was intricately intertwined with social norms—smoking was seen as common at parties and kickbacks, and Hip Hop influencers were known to smoke cigarettes.

Through research with Hip Hop teens, we also learned about the social and cultural values that motivate them, including:

  • Aspiring to overcome “the struggle” to achieve success
  • Wanting to appear “fresh”—fashionable, powerful, confident, and trendsetting
  • Seeking to uphold Hip Hop ideals, such as being authentic, creative, successful, and a leader

To provide a counter-message, we needed to show Hip Hop teens how a tobacco-free life aligned with their values and how tobacco use would get in the way of their goals.3

Fresh Empire became the first federal campaign created specifically for Hip Hop youth.


We used Rescue’s proprietary Social Branding® strategy, a behavior change framework to shift social norms within targeted audiences by associating healthy behaviors with core audience values.

Using this framework, we created culturally authentic messages for Hip Hop youth that showed them how a tobacco-free lifestyle aligned with their unique values, attitudes, and beliefs. The campaign also dispelled the idea that tobacco use is inextricably linked to Hip Hop culture.

Implementation Strategy

We developed ads that featured Hip Hop teens doing relevant activities, like break dancing, rapping, or looking out for younger family members. The ads then showed that engaging in these activities was possible by being tobacco-free. Creative assets always provided a tobacco prevention message and additional creative elements to ensure cultural authenticity and relevance.


Fresh Empire was the first federal campaign of its kind to work with influencers in the dissemination and amplification of behavior change messages. Well-known Hip Hop artists promoted Fresh Empire through their brands on the web and social media, and through paid media amplifications. We selected influencers based on:

  • Their commitment to living a tobacco-free lifestyle
  • Their level of influence and authenticity to the Hip Hop peer crowd
  • The appropriateness of their music

Read more about our work with influencers in our federal campaigns in the FDA Center for Tobacco Products Influencer Best Practices Guide.


A series of interactive elements for the campaign website and social media channels helped us reach the broader audience and increase topic awareness. They provided more facts and information for Hip Hop youth to engage with, increasing relatability and message recall.


Across the country, Rescue sponsored and activated the Fresh Empire brand at tobacco-free Hip Hop events to directly engage with the audience and provide interactive tobacco prevention experiences. These activations reinforced the message that youth can be true to the Hip Hop lifestyle while remaining tobacco-free.

Results & Impact

Fresh Empire became a national sensation, with content popping up all over Hip Hop teens’ social media feeds, at events, and with relevant influencers.

Through this first-of-its-kind campaign approach, Fresh Empire generated a staggering 92% campaign awareness.

Since 2015, Fresh Empire reinforced the idea that living a tobacco-free lifestyle is compatible with Hip Hop culture by:


Tobacco-free Hip Hop artists supported the campaign like: Big KRIT, BOB, Jermaine Dupri, Bow Wow, and Eminem


Broadcast spots


Hip Hop websites and social media channels featured ads


Events across 29 markets nationwide

The Fresh Empire  campaign achieved national success and unprecedented engagement among the target audience.


Brand awareness within 18 months of launch, exceeding the CDC’s guideline for mass media campaigns (75%)


Teens engaged with on-the-ground activations


Of Hip Hop youth found the ads believable, motivational, trustworthy, and relatable, showcasing the success of authentically tailored content


Increase in web visits that hosted culturally relevant health education content


Hermes Awards
2020 Gold: Social Marketing category
2020 Platinum: Social Media category
2019 Gold: Social Video category
2019 Platinum: Social Marketing category
2018 Platinum: Event Marketing category
2018 Gold: Website Overall - Government category

Telly Awards
2019 Gold: Craft - Use of Graphics for Online Commercials category
2019 Silver: Craft - Use of 3D Animation for Online Commercials
2019 Bronze: General - Health and Wellness for Online Commercials
2018 Bronze: Motivational for Online category
2018 Bronze: Campaign: Social Responsibility for Branded Content category
2017 Silver: Motivational category for Video / Shows / Segments
2017 Bronze: Public Interest & Awareness Promotional Pieces category

2017 Association of National Advertisers (ANA)
Winner, Multicultural Excellence Awards, Experiential category

Published Research Papers

Guo, M., Ganz, O., Cruse, B., Navarro, M., Wagner, D., Tate, B., … Benoza, G. (2020). Keeping it fresh with Hip-Hop teens: Promising targeting strategies for delivering public health messages to hard-to-reach audiences. Health Promotion Practice, 21(1_suppl), 61S-71S.

Moran, M. B., Walker, M. W., Alexander, T. N., Jordan, J. W., Wagner, D. E. (2017). Why peer crowds matter: Incorporating youth subcultures and values in health education campaigns. American Journal of Public Health, 107(3), 389-395.

1. Based on 2013 data from NYTS on experimentation and openness to smoking among youth and 2014 youth population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
2. Hafez, N., & Ling, P. M. (2006). Finding the Kool Mixx: how Brown & Williamson used music marketing to sell cigarettes. Tobacco Control, 15(5), 359-366.
3. Moran, M. B., Walker, M. W., Alexander, T. N., Jordan, J. W., & Wagner, D. E. (2017). Why peer crowds matter: Incorporating youth subcultures and values in health education campaigns. American Journal of Public Health, 107(3), 389-395.