We're disturbed because Brown & Williamson is collecting personal consumer data from visitors to the
site without having its name or the Lucky Strike brand name anywhere as the sponsor. While a Lucky Strike newspaper insert promotes the site, which focuses on entertainment happenings and news about books and music, once there visitors see only the site name: Circuit Breaker. Yes, Flair Communications is discretely identified on the home page, but only marketing cognoscenti would know Flair is the Chicago-based promotion agency handling the launch of new Lucky Strike filters.
To then request personal information from visitors, including whether or not they smoke, without disclosing that Brown & Williamson is behind the question strikes us as unethical-at the very least. And this is not a tobacco issue. Our complaint would be the same if the hidden marketer asking the questions was selling milk. But because cigarettes are the product, tobacco foes will see to it that the design of this site takes on more sinister tones.
The Federal Trade Commission has already held hearings to discuss Internet privacy issues. The Direct Marketing Association has adopted a code calling for marketers to identify themselves on Web sites. It's one thing for a marketer to build a database. It's quite another to do so without informing consumers by whom and for what purpose the information is being collected.
Brown & Williamson's "stealth" approach not only opens itself to criticism, but encourages the cynicism and suspicion that many consumers feel about all forms of marketing. Its excuse, that the site is "a lifestyle . . . guide" that doesn't push cigarettes, isn't good enough. B&W and Lucky Strikes should brand the site or shut it down.
Y&R and race
Staffers at y&r advertising in New York are no doubt saddened that incidents involving allegedly racist conduct have surfaced in their workplace. In addition to the deep offense this conduct gives to the targets of such conduct, and the damage it does to teamwork and professional respect, it has meant that six Y&R employees have left the agency-five linked to racially inflammatory e-mail last year and a sixth, after a separate incident, who left Y&R last month.
This has been painful for all concerned. Yet conduct
that unfairly stereotypes colleagues because of race or ethnicity or sexual preference or disability is so corrosive in the workplace that it needs to be squarely confronted when it appears. Paying for such conduct with one's job is a stiff price. But how many staffers would Y&R (or any other business) lose-quietly-if their personal worth was being demeaned in this way by co-workers-and nothing was said or done about it?
Many in the ad business are trying to build and nurture staffs that better reflect the diversity of this country. For ad agencies, it means overcoming an often exclusionary past, where some were "old boys clubs," where others did not welcome Jews. It wasn't easy then; it is not easy now. At Y&R, they are trying-even if it hurts.