Tobacco companies and advertising

The tobacco industry has always maintained that the only function of advertising is to persuade smokers to switch between brands and that advertising does not effect overall consumption. Clive Turner from the Tobacco Advisory Council reiterates the industry line:

“Certainly no tobacco advertising is concerned with encouraging nonsmokers to start or existing smokers to smoke more and it seems blindingly obvious that, unless you are a smoker, tobacco advertising or sponsorship has absolutely no influence whatsoever in persuading or motivating a purchase.” (1986)

But according to advertising executive Emerson Foote, former CEO of McCann-Erickson, which has handled millions of dollars in tobacco industry accounts:

“The cigarette industry has been artfully maintaining that cigarette advertising has nothing to do with total sales. This is complete and utter nonsense. The industry knows it is nonsense. I am always amused by the suggestion that advertising, a function that has been shown to increase consumption of virtually every other product, somehow miraculously fails to work for tobacco products.” (1988)

Inadvertently supporting this view is Gareth Davies, chief executive of Imperial Tobacco, who while commenting on a proposed advertising ban in the United Kingdom said:

“Obviously I am very much against anything that tries to reduce consumption of a legal product that is used by adults.” (1997)

In fact, the industry is terrified of not being able to advertise. According to Philip Morris:

“Advertising is critical to our ability to expand the geographical presence of our brands and sustain their premium image.” (Philip Morris, 1993)

A Philip Morris document from 1990 discusses the dangers facing the industry:

“The pressure against us is growing at a frightening speed….It’s quite possible that unless we change our whole approach very quickly, and start using our resources in a much more intelligent fashion, we will find that within 12 months we could well lose our advertising and sponsorship, and a good deal of our marketing, freedoms in most of our major markets. … Defeat, like fear, is contagious. Once people sense surrender is in the air, the collapse of the whole operation can come with enormous rapidity. The collapse of South Vietnam is a graphic case in point.”

The document suggests a “plan of action for winning this war,” including:

“Go on the offensive through imaginative advocacy advertising campaigns, using leading figures around the world who will put the best arguments on a range of issues. … Fortify and widen the range of coalitions to oppose both advertising and sponsorship bans.”

The reason why advertising is so important is that

“If one takes the pessimistic view of present trends, the tobacco industry could lose almost all its political clout within two years. Overstated? Not really. If you take away our advertising and sponsorship, you lose most, if not all, of your media and political allies. … We could well be in this position within two years, or even less, if the pace of present restrictions worldwide continues. It doesn’t take much imagination to see what this would mean for our share price, not to mention our reputation.…Compared to the billions we could lose, our present commitment to recovering both commercial, political and, not least, moral ground is, to put it baldly, pitiful. The time to get on top of this deteriorating situation is now.” (Philip Morris, 1990)

Fritz Gahagan, who once worked as a marketing consultant for the tobacco industry, offers some insight into how the tobacco industry has dealt with one of its most intractable dilemmas:

“The problem is, how do you sell death? How do you sell a poison that kills 350,000 people per year, a 1,000 people a day? You do it with the great open spaces…the mountains, the open places, the lakes coming up to the shore. They do it with healthy young people. They do it with athletes. How could a whiff of a cigarette be of any harm in a situation like that? It couldn’t be—there’s too much fresh air, too much health—too much absolute exuding of youth and vitality—that’s the way they do it.”

Most tobacco advertisements have absolutely nothing to do with cigarettes, as these creative guidelines for Marlboro, the world’s best-selling brand, demonstrate:

The tobacco industry has always maintained that the only function of advertising is to persuade smokers to switch between brands and that advertising does not effect overall consumption. Clive Turner from the Tobacco Advisory Council reiterates the “Every Marlboro ad needs to be judged on the following criteria: story value, authenticity, masculinity, while communicating those enduring core values of freedom, limitless opportunities, self-sufficiency, mastery of destiny and harmony with nature.” (Philip Morris, undated)

Sports sponsorship has proven to be a useful tool for the tobacco industry’s attempt to associate smoking with health and athletic prowess. As one R.J. Reynolds executive put it:

“We’re in the cigarette business. We’re not in the sports business. We use sports as an avenue for advertising our products.…We can go into an area where we’re marketing an event, measure sales during the event and measure sales after the event, and see an increase in sales.” (1989)

Around the world, the tobacco companies sponsor sporting events and teams:

“The Marlboro soccer cup in Hong Kong and China, World Cup tie-ins and the inaugural Marlboro dynasty cup are excellent examples of how we associate Marlboro with Asia’s favorite sport and position Marlboro as the principal contributor to football development in Asia.” (Philip Morris, 1990)

They also have proven extremely clever in finding ways around legal restrictions:

“The other major promotion in Turkey was centered around the World Cup. Football is by far the leading sport in Turkey, and the World Cup provided an opportunity too good to miss. However, due to copyright and legal issues, Marlboro could not be involved in a World Cup promotion. So we turned to a publisher to get around the problem. … The idea this time was to…produce a quality 36-page World Cup Guide created by the paper and sponsored by Marlboro. This approach avoided legal problems but still achieved our objective of linking the brand to the World Cup….In order to whet the appetite of the public and create word-of-mouth publicity, the PM [Philip Morris] promoters carried out a drive, distributing 10,000 copies of the guide in front of stadiums at major soccer games and in pubs and cafes against the showing of a Marlboro pack.” (Philip Morris, 1990)

The World Cup tie-in has been extended to other places as well:

“As in Turkey, football is the most keenly followed sport in the Middle East. So we linked up with a leading Kuwaitisports magazine, Al-Riaydhi, to produce a quality World Cup guide—a 30-page special supplement aimed at young adult Arabs, with a promotion contained in it. Top prizes were VIP trips to the World Cup in Italy, with runner-up prizes of latest model large screen TV’s. … The look of the guide was colourful and pictorial, with Marlboro branding on each spread. And in the center was a prestigious 6-page promotional ad, appealing to Arab patriotism. … A total of 260,000 copies of the guide were produced, making it the largest print run for a magazine in the Middle East.”(Philip Morris, 1990)

Tomorrow, I am going to look at the relationship between tobacco advertising and its biggest advertising space, motorsport.