Digital Company news South Africa

Duke's fake news campaign for Heart and Stroke Foundation more than just hot air

When tasked by the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) with generating awareness around the danger of tobacco and vaping products, Duke, together with the HSFSA, chose specifically to focus on e-cigarettes or vaporisers (vapes) as the introduction of e-cigarettes has seen an increase in teenagers addicted to nicotine.
Duke's fake news campaign for Heart and Stroke Foundation more than just hot air

Comments Duke Executive Creative Director, Mike Beukes, “Whilst the number of smokers has decreased globally, vaping is quickly reversing that count based on the belief that it is a benign habit. And although the health risks of tobacco are well known, we don’t yet have irrefutable evidence of the overall, long-term health impact of vaping, because it has only been around for a relatively short while. There is, however, emerging evidence about the dangers of electronic smoking devices. But you will remember that we also believed cigarettes to be harmless until decades of clinical research and evidence proved us entirely wrong.”

There are some short-term studies that claim vaping is harmless, but these are largely funded by big tobacco and can essentially be construed as fake news stories since it’s impossible to guarantee there won’t be damaging long-term effects.

Explains Beukes, “To discredit these claims we created a powerful ‘Fake News’ campaign of our own, because what better way to fight fake news than with more fake news?”

The online campaign consisted of over 10 different articles posted on Twitter and Facebook, each with sensational, eye-catching headlines such as:

  • "Vaping is causing pieces of my teeth to break off" says young vaper;
  • "Everything I eat tastes like cherry candyfloss" says vaper;
  • "My ten-year-old keeps stealing and 'smoking' my vape”;
  • "Vaping made my gums pus" says UK reality TV star.

Duke's fake news campaign for Heart and Stroke Foundation more than just hot air

Once readers clicked through to read the article, they were lead to a fictitious news site entitled “”. However, whilst clickbait may have led them to the site, upon reading the article they would soon realise that the headlines aren’t as farfetched as they may seem. Each article educated on the real facts about vaping – the chemicals that are being inhaled, the aerosol that is exhaled and most importantly, the fact that there is no concrete proof that we aren’t doing any irreparable damage.

Says Beukes, “As predicted, the social media reaction was extreme and outrageous, as people tagged their friends in the posts and shared out of concern. It definintely helped get our point across and generated a great deal of discussion and debate.”

Commenting on the campaign, HSFSA Chief Executive, Professor Pamela Naidoo, says, “We are sitting with a population that is blissfully unaware that they may in fact be doing irreparable damage to their bodies through vaping and worse still is the fact that they have been led to believe it is safe. Duke’s campaign has done an excellent job of putting that message across, getting people talking and educating them that they are essentially participating as human guinea pigs in one of biggest medical trials in history, the results of which shall only be known decades down the line.”

The campaign was also supported by a robust PR campaign, which delivered the ‘real news’ information of what we definitively know about vaping – the dangers and what we’re still yet to find out. Stories appeared in a wide variety of key media, from to the Sunday Argus and on ClassicFM.

The campaign delivered over 23.5 million impressions with over 300,000 click-throughs to the fake news site, as well as a CPM of 9.03. The entire fake news campaign can be viewed online at

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