Shocked? Ads Hope to Give 'Gift of Life'

Few know his name, but the millions who've seen Ronaldo Martinez will not forget his voice.

Martinez is featured in anti-smoking ads produced by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that have aired in seven states. During a shower scene, he explains, "I was 39 when I got throat cancer from smoking cigarettes. I almost died. Now there is a permanent hole in my throat."

Martinez speaks honestly about breathing through the hole in his throat, and having to clean it with a cotton swab.

Audiences cringe. And that's the point.

Martinez, who is the focus of the shock ad, shares his own battle with throat cancer, in an effort to get others to quit smoking.

In one spot, he speaks of never swimming again: "If water gets inside of me, it will drown me."

Though stomach-turning, ad experts say Martinez's story is working. They caution there is a fine line.

Priscilla Natkin, the executive vice president of Ad Council, explains: "You have to watch out for two things though: One using it for shock value only. ... The other is if you shock people so much that they turn away and they don't hear what the message is in the advertisement."

The ad contains graphic images of the hole that has been cut in Martinez's neck that allows him to breathe.

"It is a testimonial, the ultimate testimonial," Natkin says. "This is a real person telling a real cautionary tale."

Martinez's ad just finished running in New York City, where the city's health department says the number of smokers has plummeted nearly 20 percent since 2002, compared to a drop of 3 percent nationally.

Martinez, who is 54 and now cancer-free, resides in New York. Since the advertisement aired, he has been recognized throughout the city. He recalls people coming up to him saying, "I quit because of the commercial." Other people have thanked Martinez, saying, "God bless you. You are doing a good job."

The Ad Council says similar shock ads are now being used to combat the exploding crystal meth epidemic in this country. The ad features a teenage girl depticted in two different ways in the shower. The one sitting at the bottom of the shower with wounds all over her body screams: "Don't do it; don't do it."

And in Montana, where the campaign aired, meth-related crime has been cut in half since it did so.

Another advertisement aired by the Ad Council is aimed at unsuspecting parents. It is about online predators.

The ad features an instant message exchange between a teenage girl, and "a teenage boy." He writes, "I just turned 16, got my license." The girl responds, "No way." He continues on, "I can take you out anytime."

The ad cuts to a middle-aged man typing behind a computer and a voice warns: "Every day, online predators make their way into homes uninvited and unnoticed."

The ads are troubling, but Martinez believes they can also be life-saving.

"For me it's a big pleasure" he says. "You know, it's a gift ... of life."

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