IS PM BLOWING SMOKE IN ANTI-TOBACCO ADS? LOOKING BEHIND PHILIP MORRIS' $100M CAMPAIGN, AD AGENCY CEO SEES HYPOCRISY

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My wife's blessed grandmother would call it "chutzpah." I call it unmitigated gall and hypocrisy; incredible and disheartening. It is another reflection of the distorted values and warped standards that exist today more than ever. It's right up there with O.J. Simpson's acquittal for murder and Bill Clinton's insisting he hasn't lied about anything. It makes me angry and disgusted.

PM BRANDS PULL IN TEENS

I'm referring, of course, to the news that appeared in a recent edition of Advertising Age ("Cigarette giant dissuades kids," AA, Dec. 7). It informs us that Philip Morris USA asked its agency of record, Y&R Advertising, to produce a $100 million campaign "aimed at curbing youth smoking."

You're familiar with Y&R, aren't you? They're the agency that has created cigarette advertising over the past 50 or so years for various brands.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, statistics show the vast majority of teens smoking are smoking a Philip Morris brand. So all this advertising was at least partially responsible for helping to addict an estimated 3,000 kids each day.

QUESTIONING PM'S MOTIVES

Many critics have questioned Philip Morris' motives here, suggesting that the ad campaign clearly will have a far greater impact on improving Philip Morris' corporate image than on reducing youth tobacco use.

Others have criticized the direction of the campaign, which encourages kids not to give in to peer pressure.

Anti-tobacco activists contend that a positioning that shocks teens regarding the consequences of smoking is more effective. Some even state that the campaign could make smoking more attractive.

"If you want kids to start smoking, the most effective way is to tell kids they shouldn't smoke," stated Bill Godshall of the public health group Smoke-free Pennsylvania. "It only makes kids curious."

FAILURE NO SURPRISE

But put all that stuff aside. It's not surprising the agency that has been creating effective cigarette advertising for decades, here and around the world, has come up with a campaign that may very well fail in its purported objective.

After creating ads to secure "replacement smokers" from the ranks of the country's youth, it's got to be a bit difficult to turn around and create a campaign that attempts to do just the opposite.

What's a creative director to do?

He walks from one meeting, where he has just asked the creative team to make sure the people in the ads look sexy and beautiful (oh -- and make sure the pack is nice and large), into the next, where he muses that teens need to take away that it's not cool to smoke, so they shouldn't.

Sexy and beautiful are not cool.

A TOUCH OF TROUBLE

According to the Agency Red Book, Y&R is the agency of record in the U.S. for Parliament and other Philip Morris brands. It's got to be a touch troublesome when copywriter A and art director B are sitting in office C trying to sell cigs, while copywriter B and art director A are sitting in office D trying equally hard not to.

PM, GET SERIOUS

Now, if Philip Morris was really serious about this effort to discourage teen smoking, it would have given the business to an agency (and there are lots of them out there) that, on principle, has never and would never advertise a cigarette.

The subject of teen smoking prevention would have been treated far differently; the work would have been far more relevant and persuasive, and Philip Morris might have been seen as maybe a bit more objective in its motives.

Instead, we have this campaign from an agency that has enriched itself over the years by creating advertising that entices teens and others to smoke.

However, there is the possibility of some salvation and grace in all of this as I would expect that the energy and effort that went into creating the campaign was done on a pro bono basis in the interest of bettering the world around us.

SAVING A FEW KIDS

Someone believed that some of the evil of cigarettes might just be removed by saving a few kids from possibly dying. But what if the agency didn't do it on a pro bono basis and was actually paid for the effort?

Well then, it shouldn't make any of us in the "profession" wonder why advertising people are ranked just slightly above car salesmen in credibility.

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