On the north side of Interstate 40 between Meridian Avenue and Portland Avenue in Oklahoma City, the east- and west-facing electronic billboard owned by News 9 Outdoor Advertising features multiple advertisements by the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET).
Many of the TSET ads displayed on the billboard are intended to promote a healthy lifestyle or increased physical activity. Some of the advertisements call for the reader to “Rethink Your Drink,” “Eat Better,” or “Move More,” while the rest of the ads call for the more traditional TSET mandate—to “Be Tobacco Free.”
In all, TSET currently uses 92 billboards in Oklahoma’s major population areas. An additional 52 billboards convey TSET messages either as bonus ads from volume advertising purchases or as public service announcements.
The ads reach rural populations through gas pump advertising and other small-market strategies.
The total budget for TSET’s billboard advertising campaign in fiscal year 2017 is $770,663, with $45,900 allocated for a nine-month commitment to advertise on the aforementioned billboard on Interstate 40.
Sjonna Paulson, director of health communications at TSET, said the messages on the billboard are needed to combat the 30 percent obesity rate in Oklahoma and to encourage incremental changes in Oklahoma’s population. She said that TSET hopes to begin generational changes to reverse trends which place Oklahoma among the lowest-rated states in terms of health quality.
Paulson said that campaigns like “Rethink Your Drink” are needed because Oklahoma has the “highest consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in the nation among 18-34 year-olds.”
“Getting people to drink water is harder than you think,” she said. “Being able to offer some options to make water feel more special or more jazzy by doing Jalapeño-watermelon water, that’s one of our biggest comments on our social media, is that they’ve tried one of those water recipes and that they’re really great and they are now cutting up fruits or veggies like cucumbers and putting it in their water with their kids and their kids look forward to it, and will even go to the grocery store with parents and say, ‘Hey what new thing can we try in the water?’ You know, that kind of thing, so that they can get them to drink more water.”
“Oklahoma is 49th on fruit consumption,” she said. “We are 47th in physical inactivity and we are 39th in vegetable consumption.
“We’re not in a place where you can do complicated things to have people start making behavior changes to improve their health.
“When we did focus groups across the state, one of the biggest things we heard from parents was that being healthy was just too complicated, there were too many barriers to it. They needed easy, simple steps that they could incorporate into their day.
“Anything we can do to make those incremental baby steps to get people moving more and eating better would be a really good thing for us, in the state.”
State Senators Rob Standridge, R-Norman, and David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, responded to requests for comment asking if the billboard advertisements were a productive use of TSET funds.“The way the people of Oklahoma set up TSET,” Holt said, “the Legislature has very little oversight of TSET’s spending and has no ability to use the TSET funds for other more pressing issues.”
Standridge was criticial of what he views as poor prioritization of TSET’s spending.
“I have run legislation on prioritizing TSET money as others in the legislature have," Standridge said. "I believe TSET should spend their money more wisely. Examples of how they could better spend their money are healthcare-related expenses to make up for shortfalls in InsureOK, work on physician recruitment in rural areas, or offset the grocery tax in part to lower taxes."