the Philip Morris charm offensive continues

November 16, 2004 3:57 pm by krueger

Yesterday, a Philip Morris TV commercial ran during a MASH rerun on the Hallmark channel. It went like this:

(sound of computer keyboard typing) There is no safe cigarette

(voice and screen text) There is no safe cigarette
Light and ultra light cigarettes are no exception
To reduce the health effects of somking the best thing do to is to quit

(voice) At Philip Morris USA dot com, you can find this and other information on the serious health effects of smoking, along with links to sites that can help smokers quit

(screen image of Philip Morris website showing links to the National Cancer Institute, U.S. Surgeon General, and Philip Morris’s “Quit Assist”)

(voice) For more, call or visit Philip Morris USA dot com
(screen shows URL and phone number)

Here’s a little analysis of this PR.

The timing: the DoJ trial and also the Illinois (Price) lights fraud appeal are happening now. So it’s probably no accident that the ad mentions light and ultra light, and makes Philip Morris look pretty reasonable on the subject. Light cigarettes aren’t safe.

The wording carefully avoids saying whether lights are safer than other Philip Morris product, or just as lethal, or what. The Illinois court found Philip Morris guilty of misleading smokers into believing that its light product was safer. This wording skirts that issue while coming across to the public as reasonable.

The rest of the ad conforms to most recent Philip Morris PR: carefully worded statements on smoking, quitting, and health. The messages appear to be: we have information for smokers, we’re here to help, we’re being open and honest.

The PR design is probably: (1) shift the blame, blame the customer. The message is: smokers should quit, so if you don’t, it’s your fault. (2) Position Philip Morris as part of the solution, or at least not part of the problem: smoking is bad, not our product, and not us. The message is: we’re helping you; we’re working with the Surgeon General and the National Cancer Institute. (3) Softpedal what the product does to the customer: “serious health effects” instead of the reality: the product kills one out of five Americans; the product, used as intended, spreads horrible disease and disability; the product takes away people’s life, breath, dignity, independence, voice, eyesight, mobility, freedom.

To accomplish 3 without compromising 2 requires some serious verbal gymnastics, which Philip Morris’s PR proves it’s up to.

But it’s goal 1 that requires the most careful wording: it’s the effects of “smoking” not the effects of the cigarette, the product. The website viewed in the ad shows “Addiction” not “Addictive”. The customer’s smoking, the customer’s addiction. What never comes up: Philip Morris’s product, or how it engineers its product for addiction.

The function of the TV ad is also to get people to the website, or get pamphlets mailed to them. The website and pamphlets are slick, expensive, well-executed, and probably highly effective PR, and follow the same lines: Philip Morris is here to help, and so on.

All of this is coordinated and timed to coincide with the trials. Again, probably to polish Philip Morris’s image while the trials reveal some unpleasant truths about Philip Morris and the tobacco industry.

6 Responses to “the Philip Morris charm offensive continues”

  1. Laurie Comstock Says:

    Gene:

    That very same ad has been running the past couple of weeks at least in the Sacramento, California area and probably all over California.

    There is also another one that starts out the same and then tells people they are one of the major sponsors of the “We Card” program and shows a store and the We Card sign.

    Thanks for keeping us up to date on the DOJ Trial. I really appreciate it.

    Laurie Comstock
    Lauriscomstock@aol.com

  2. krueger Says:

    The “We Card” program is part of a major tobacco industry PR investment.

    The real purposes of this investment: fight tobacco excise taxes and tobacco regulation; displace effective youth anti-smoking programs; take the heat off the industry’s dealer network that supplies its most important customers: 14 year olds; frame tobacco as a problem only in terms of youth smoking; give cigarettes allure for youth as “forbidden fruit”; and last but not least, polish the industry’s image, provide something for the industry to point to at times like these. It’s a masterful work of PR:

    http://www.no-smoke.org/ind_prog.html

    http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/stories/2002/05/27/daily28.html

    http://www.tobacco.org/Documents/dd/ddindyyouthprograms.html

    And it is a major investment for the industry, gives you some idea of the power of this industry: you will find it difficult, perhaps impossible to find a single gas station, convenience store, liquor store, supermarket, drugstore, or any place cigarettes are sold, that does not have a We Card sign displayed.

    If the public became aware that We Card has done nothing to reduce teen smoking, would the industry respond by running an effective youth smoking prevention program? That would be a very naive prediction. No, more likely the industry would discontinue the program. If it’s not fooling the public, it has no point.

  3. Illinois Slim Says:

    The use of the word ’safe’ instead of ’safer’ is infuriating considering the document below points out that the “inescapable conclusion” of lights and low-tars is that they are in fact safer. If PM really wanted to do something good for a change, they would explicitly say that there is no safer cigarette, instead of continuing to perpetrate the myth.

    Statement of the Industry’s Position. (Tobacco Institute) 5/22/67 – TIMN 257785-257857
    “It has been said that there is no risk of misleading and perhaps endangering the smoker by requiring tar and nicotine labeling, because of the warning of potential hazard. True, the smoker may be reminded that the cigarette is not absolutely safe. But he may well conclude that the cigarette is substantially safer. Indeed, that conclusion is virtually inescapable, since the very reason for the proposed labeling of tar and nicotine content is to encourage reduction of that content, thereby purportedly making the cigarette ‘safer’…”

  4. tobacco observer Says:

    If the public became aware that We Card has done nothing to reduce teen smoking, would the industry respond by running an effective youth smoking prevention program? That would be a very naive prediction. No, more likely the industry would discontinue the program. If it’s not fooling the public, it has no point.
    ***

    Well, let’s see:

    Cigarette vending machines are banned.
    Billboard ads are banned.
    Television ads are banned.
    Radio ads are banned.
    Internet ads are banned.
    Magazine ads are heavily restricted.
    Clothing and merchandise ads bearing tobacco logos are banned.
    Now tobacco is emphasizing point of sale identification.

    What else would you have them do? Seriously.

  5. tobacco observer Says:

    The use of the word ’safe’ instead of ’safer’ is infuriating considering the document below points out that the “inescapable conclusion” of lights and low-tars is that they are in fact safer. If PM really wanted to do something good for a change, they would explicitly say that there is no safer cigarette, instead of continuing to perpetrate the myth.
    ****

    Hang on a second. That’s just ridiculous.

    If there is no such thing as a “safer” cigarette, then there is no such thing as a “more dangerous” cigarette, right?

    Are you saying that EVERY cigarette poses the EXACT same health risk? Filtered. . .unfiltered. . .high tar. . .low tar. . .additives. . light. . .longs. . .slims. . .menthols. . .high nicotine. . .low nicotine. . .etc. There’s no just no difference between any of them?

    I just don’t see how you can argue that. Maybe light cigarettes don’t offer any real benefit, but even David Kessler and other DOJ witnesses conceded at least that certain cigarettes contain more carcinogens than others.

    Maybe you want to take the position that the tobacco companies ought not to make ANY health claims whatsoever about their products. I think that’s perfectly reasonable, given the history of the industry, but then that leaves claims about which cigarettes may be more (or less) harmful up to the health authorities.

    The problem is that these authorities always default to exactly the same position as the above poster, “there is no such thing as a safe cigarette”. They won’t even try to make a statement as to which cigarettes might be safer than others. There is also no such thing as a safe automobile, either, but that doesn’t keep Consumer Reports from rating them (as they have rated cigarettes in the past).

    The problem with this attitude is that it really does obstruct tobacco’s ability to make or market a legitimately safer product. Philip Morris has been begging the FTC for years to regulate this further, as well as strongly supporting FDA legislation to accomplish the same thing. If no one supports this effort, how is it going to be done? Are we to shrug our shoulders and say that it isnt even worth trying to develop safer cigarettes?

  6. krueger Says:

    “Television ads are banned”

    Yesterday, a Philip Morris TV commercial ran during a MASH rerun on the Hallmark channel.

    If you mean tobacco product ad, I saw one last week: Philip Morris product placement in I Love Lucy. Tobacco product placement in movies becomes more tobacco TV ads when those movies run on TV. Auto racing shown on TV becomes even more TV tobacco ads.

    This industry has found ways around the broadcast ban, just as it’s found ways around the rest of the mentioned “restrictions”.

    It’s accurate however to say the tobacco industry has been pushing point of sale advertising recently. It’s wise to. That’s where the kids are:
    www.tobaccofreekids.org/ research/factsheets/pdf/0075.pdf

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