The website http://sunnyside.thetruth.com/ is owned by The American Legacy Foundation, who’s target is to make young people reject tobacco (American legacy Foundation). The Legacy is a non-profit organization founded trough the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (American legacy Foundation) and does has a lot of different projects associated with information and research about tobacco. The Truth campaign, launched in 2000, is the largest anti smoking campaign in USA which targets young people from 12 to 17 years old (American legacy Foundation). Most anti tobacco campaigns in Norway and US have been based on frightening people trough scary pictures and texts. In the website sunnyside.thetruth.com we see a different way of conveying the information. The aim in this paper is to show how the website uses semiotic elements to get its message trough.
When first connect to the homepage of the website the background seems dark (Image 1). On the top of the site from left to right one can see the word truth in white, an image of a light switch with the word off on and the sentence: “In 2001, over 250 babies died of SIDS from inhaling secondhand smoke.” After a few seconds a hand comes down, touches the light switch, and turns the light on. The background gets bright and over the word truth is the words “the sunny side of truth” added (Image 2 & 3). Behind the words there is now a yellow shape that reminds of a sun. The original sentence is now much smaller and a new text is added under: “But think of all the babies that live!”. The use of light and darkness as a mode together with the added text elements gives us the first clue about the information strategy in this website.
Looking at the bright side the background is seen clearly. It shows a street view from with some buildings, people and cars (Image 2 & 4). It seems to be a picture from a city. Placed in the street image there are various cartoon figures in bright colors: a unicorn, a dragon, a wizard, two fairies, a leprechaun and an elf. They are in bright colors and are smiling happily. This fantasy mode elements with provenance from the mythological and cartoon world together with the bright color mode give on one hand a sense of happiness, fun and fantasy world. On the other hand these creatures are often connected to or used as symbols of danger in mythological and fantasy stories. We can interpret this as signifiers showing that on this site the reality is the base but it is shown with fantasy and fun. But since no of the cartoon elements are known to be part of the real world we can see the statements on this site as not a part of reality.
The cartoon figures plays a role in every page of the website. On the background there are 8 different boxes that contains links to games, videos and other fun stuff. The title of first box “The sunny side up” has a denotation to fried eggs, but has clearly nothing to do with that. The box has four alternating images that with a click connect the user to the different pages of the site.
• Remix competition – where several world’s top artists have participated in remixing the Broadway like songs from the Sunny Side of truth ads. It is possible subscribe to podcasts at iTunes or your RSS reader, listen to music and watch video interviews. The message is communicated trough the music and the interviews.
• Tough Love 2- cupids revenge – a game were a cupid is using cigarettes and tobacco smoke ingredients benzene and polonium 210 as fuel for flying higher and higher. But stay away from cancer (here signified by a skull with wings) which makes your avatar die. Instead of having several lifes as usual in many games we here have different persons. If you hit cancer one of your persons die. That is an effective way of showing that cancer kills people. The game gives information and knowledge about ingredients that can cause health hazard in indirect way.
• Will you be our BFF, like, 4EVA, – a link to the Facebook group for the campaign. By using Facebook the campaign meets the young people at their own arena.
• Polls –with funny and strange questions with some times hidden connections to the sites messages about tobacco.
These different pages show how the site both is multimodal and uses several different media to convey its message. The medias in use are the ones that many young people use every day: listening to music, looking at videos, playing internet games and spending time on Facebook (Bauerline).
The second box is showing a video interview with two members of the band called Cobra Starship. They talk about the remix contest, the songs and the band. Also here the information about tobacco is given in an indirect way, when they talk about the song text.
The three games that alternate on showing in the third box are all games that are built around the same concept at the rest of the site. The first is the Tough Love 2- cupids revenge, which also was showed in box 1. The second is The Key Tar Slayer where the information is given trough the text of the melodies played. The text is very sarcastic with black humor. An example from the song Tough love is:
“Tough loves the best love of all the love there is. That’s what we get from the big tobacco biz. Their products may maim us and leave us for dead. But its just love, tough love so get it through your head….
…..kids keep losing their moms and dads
it makes you want to cry
but nothing builds your character like watching a loved one die”
The last game is the Applesauce Hop, which is built on a passage from a tobacco executive in 1983. He said that anything could be harmful if you got too much of it – even applesauce. If you don’t succeed in the game you die in applesauce. It gets the message smoke kills trough. All games gives information in a humorous way about tobacco during the play session.
Of the three smaller boxes located under box 3 the most interesting is the one in the middle. It leads us to a video presentation of what the ingredients of tobacco also can be used as. Here are some of the examples: Dynamite, perfume and rat poison. At the end of the presentation one can click to get more information given in a ridiculing style. This is a very good example of how they use text as a medium and irony as a mode to convey information.
In the last of the three boxes and second last box links to a page were you can send messages to your friends in a fun way trough email. You can make your own or use one premade. In the last box there are direct information about tobacco and smoking.
The links on the left side of the homepage are shortcuts to the content of the boxes, but also gives links to the videos in Broadway like style with music. On the bottom of the homepage there are links to several social network pages like MySpace, Hi5, YouTube and del.icio.us.
The website clearly intervenes in the discourse around use of tobacco and health issues connected to this. It also tries to be a part of the discourse around young people and their culture by modes and media that are popular amongst their generation. The site does not raise a finger or condemn anyone. But it gives information about tobacco wrapped in a humorous way. The information is embedded trough different modes and is conveyed to the user as a byproduct of the activity. The use of modes like humor, irony, sarcasm, exaggeration and narratives have much likens to how talk shows like The Daily Show conveys information about political issues. Many young people get their information about politics from that show (Downtown Women’s club). The success of The Daily Show as a source of political information shows us how effective information presented in a satiric and humorous way can be. This is probably an important reason why these troops are used at the Sunny Side.
One could criticize the website for not being very accessible for people with special needs. There is no alternative text for the videos or images. It surly is not up to the standards given by W3C (W3C Web Accessibility Initiative ).
The truth Campaign and this website has been given several awards (American legacy Foundation), and a study published in 2003 by American Journal of Public Health shows that the campaign is successful (The Citizens’ Commission to Protect the Truth). It does remind of how one can get kids to take their medication by sugarcoating the pills…
Bauerlein, Mark The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30). Tarcher: 2008
Chandler, Daniel Semiotics: The Basics. 2nd ed. Routledge: 2007.
Cranny-Francis, Anne Multimedia: Texts and Contexts. Sage: 2005.
Kress, Gunther & Van Leeuwen, Theo Multimodal Discourse. Arnold UP 2001.
The American Legacy Foundation Website 28.3 2009: http://www.americanlegacy.org/28.aspx
The American Legacy Foundation Website 28.3 2009: http://sunnyside.thetruth.com/
The Citizens’ Commission to Protect the Truth 2005
Website 28.3 2009: http://www.protectthetruth.org/newsroom_0223pressrelease_1.htm
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative website 28.3 2009: http://www.w3.org/WAI/
Image 1: The website sunnyside.thetruth.com with light switch on off.
Image 2: The website sunnyside.thetruth.com with light switch on on. The upper part of the homepage.
Image 3 The cartoon figures.
Image 4 The website sunnyside.thetruth.com. The lower part of homepage.
Word count 1476 words