Prega News' campaign on expectant fathers to quit smoking sparks a debate

Advertising has been challenging the set notions about gender roles in relation to parenting for a while. The big idea: while biological realities may not change, “myths” can be questioned and debunked.


One debate — whether smoking by men has an adverse effect on the unborn child — has been taken up head on by Prega News in its new campaign, #QuitBeforeYouStart.

In a way, Mankind Pharma has got its timing right with the launch of the campaign on May 29, two days before the World Anti-tobacco Day and just ahead of Father’s Day (celebrated on June 17 this year). In the online campaign, which includes a video film, the company has urged expectant fathers to give up smoking arguing that if the father is addicted to smoking when a child is conceived, it might damage the DNA of the child, leading possibly to disabilities for life.


“Planning a family is a huge decision taken by the couple. People are aware of the side-effects of mother’s smoking at the time of pregnancy. But when it comes to men, there is a lack of awareness that even the father’s habit of smoking can harm the foetus. With this campaign we would like to break this misconception and highlight that it is equally important for both partners to quit smoking,” said Akashneel Dasgupta, senior vice-president and executive director of ADK Fortune, the agency behind the ad.


The “lack of awareness” Dasgupta speaks of is very apparent as fathers seldom change their behaviour, unlike expecting mothers who stop, or even give up the habit on medical advice. So what is the basis for coming up with a campaign like this? It is unusual in the sense that the ad is aimed at men when the product it purportedly sells is aimed at women. The company’s CEO Rajiv Juneja cites a study done by National Health Society, United Kingdom. It shows men who continue smoking while planning a family, run the risk of damaging the DNA of the foetus permanently.


A questionnaire seeking details about findings of the study or whether something similar had been done in India, wasn’t answered. But there are numerous studies suggesting it is not a healthy habit.


“Being the leading brand (Prega News commands 70 per cent market share, according to the company), it is our duty to take up relevant issues concerning pregnancy. For a healthy child, it is the responsibility of both the mother and father to quit smoking. This takes our corporate philosophy of serving lives one step ahead,” says Juneja.


Unlike Hindi film actors Shilpa Shetty and Kareena Kapoor who have endorsed the brand in the past, the latest campaign doesn’t have a star. A young expecting father is seen anxiously waiting outside the labour room of a hospital where his wife is admitted. He is joined by a friend who asks him to light one up. However, the character — described as someone for whom smoking is the go-to solution for every tense situation — refuses. During the rest of the ad, the father tells how he lied to his wife about quitting smoking. He also talks about all the harmful effects smoking can have on the child. It ends with a hospital staff placing the newborn daughter in his arms as he pledges to quit smoking.


The message may be important and different but a nearly three-minute-long runtime makes it appear a bit stretched.


Dasgupta says after receiving the brief, the next step was to mould it into an interesting story for social media consumption. The agency had a little challenge while shooting the film and it came from someone critical to the campaign.


“It was to manage the 15-day-old. The entire shoot was dependent on her sleeping, eating and crying patterns,” says Dasgupta.