The cigarette marketer is taking its Youth Prevention Anti-Smoking Campaign to America's school rooms via Primedia's Cover Concepts Marketing Services. The misguided tactic: 125 million free book covers featuring colorful graphics and the line "Reflect Confidence -- Think Don't Smoke" that are being distributed to kids from kindergarten age to high school seniors. The covers also include the Philip Morris Co. name and the familiar U.S. surgeon general's health warning.
Anti-youth smoking initiatives backed by Philip Morris or other tobacco companies should be encouraged, and PM plainly hopes to rehabilitate its image with the public. But it has its work cut out if it hopes to educate children without being accused of ulterior motives.
When the venue is the schoolyard, tobacco marketers should tread very carefully. PM's book-cover approach is a textbook example of what not to do. unless the intent is to cause controversy. By slapping its name on the book covers (whether or not such "sponsor ID" was required), PM set itself up for an obvious charge: Using an anti-smoking campaign as an opportunity to build brand recognition. If PM wanted credit for its effort, it could've left its name off the covers and issued a press release.
And what about the book cover itself? Granted, black & white typo-graphy or scare-tactic imagery probably wouldn't go over big with school kids. But there are more direct ways of conveying an anti-smoking message than the punctuation-less phrase "Think Don't Smoke." Why not simply "Don't Smoke!"? Add the copyright credit and the surgeon general's warning and what you've got is a book cover that looks alarmingly like a colorful pack of cigarettes.
Face it. Some books should be judged by their covers. And this one fails the test.