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A cohort of consumer advocacy groups are calling for Philip Morris International to end its global "Be Marlboro" campaign, charging that it knowingly targets kids and teenagers. The cohort is also calling for countries to enforce stricter tobacco-marketing regulations.
In a report released today called "You're the Target," the groups said that the global campaign, launched in 2011 and created by Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett, has been found to target teens. That, the report says, violates laws restricting tobacco marketing in several countries, but it is calling for all countries to adopt stricter regulations that would in effect ban all marketing, promotion and sponsorship from tobacco companies.
According to the report, Philip Morris International spent $6.97 billion on marketing and related expenses in 2012 on all its products. It said at least $62 million of that was spent on new brands and the rollout of "Be Marlboro," citing PMI's 10-K. The report comes from Corporate Accountability International, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Alliance for the Control of Tobacco Use, Tobacco Control Alliance, Framework Convention Alliance, InterAmerican Heart Foundation and Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.
The "Be Marlboro" campaign originally launched in 2011 in Germany, though it has expanded to more than 50 countries, according to the report, which said it's intent is to revamp Marlboro's image among "young adult smokers" and replace the Marlboro Man. But what it really does, the report charges, is target kids and teenagers and get them hooked on cigarettes early.
According to the report: "While tobacco companies claim publicly that they do not market to youth or design marketing campaigns that target them, a 2013 study conducted in low- and middle-income countries showed that 22% of five- and six-year-olds surveyed were able to correctly identify Marlboro cigarettes, the world's best-selling cigarette brand."
The report said that the company is using strategies that can be found in documents that were previously undisclosed but have since been made public, thanks to the massive tobacco settlement in the '90s among tobacco companies and many U.S. states. According to the report, these documents show that tobacco companies targeted kids as young as 13 and that such targeting increased youth smoking rates.
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It points specifically to the Archetype Project, which the report said outlines how to market to teens: "Using concepts and imagery consistent with the recommendations of findings from previous Philip Morris internal research on marketing to teens, the 'Be Marlboro' campaign draws on youth-oriented images and themes that suggest to young people that they should be a Marlboro smoker."
John Stewart, the Challenge Big Tobacco campaign director at Corporate Accountability International, said that "the tactics to get teens to smoke in the U.S. were being exported to low- and middle- income countries where regulations had yet to take root."
In response, Philip Morris said in a statement, "Our Marlboro campaign, like all of our marketing and advertising, is aimed exclusively at adult smokers and is conducted in compliance with local regulations and internal marketing policies. Allegations to the contrary are unfounded and based on a subjective interpretation." Leo Burnett declined to comment.
The report calls for countries to enforce strict bans on all tobacco advertising in accordance with the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control -- a treaty originally from 2003 that now has some 177 countries signed on -- which seeks to regulate tobacco consumption and policy, including a comprehensive ban on all advertising in the countries that are part of the treaty.
Mr. Stewart said that many of the countries that are part of the WHO treaty may not have enforced their advertising bans yet because "there's a latency period where countries have to bring their laws up to speed. Some are adopting stricter bans, but it's taking time."
He added: "Wherever there are holes in the marketing restrictions, the tobacco industry will use these loopholes and create campaigns accordingly."
"Complete bans or restrictive regulation limiting tobacco advertising are common in both developed and developing countries around the world today," said Philip Morris in its statement. "In those places where marketing and advertising is permitted, our campaigns are intended to inform current consumers of our brands in their choice and encourage smokers of competing brands to switch to our products."
In addition to asking Marlboro to ban the campaign altogether, the cohort of consumer advocacy groups ask that Philip Morris publish "a detailed description of the 'Be Marlboro' marketing activities by country on its website so that governments and public health organizations can make an assessment of the damage caused by PMI's activities."
Philip Morris said that it supports rational restrictions on advertising. The company's standards on marketing can be found on its website.
CAI has had success in the past with tobacco. In the '90s, when it was known as Infact, it led the charge to ban Joe Camel from RJ Reynolds' ads, and after President Bill Clinton and the American Medical Association followed suit, the tobacco mascot was permanently discharged.