Joe Camel, Marlboro Man Return to Advertising in Echo of Tobacco Wars

Soda Marketers and Anti-Chemical Industry Groups Turn to Familiar Playbook

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The gradual takedown of Big Tobacco in the late 20th century is inspiring a pair of 2012 public health and revenue-raising advocacy campaigns against flush industries.

Watchdog groups Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and the Environmental Defense Fund recently introduced a DC influencer-focused print ad campaign seeking to create a specter of "Big Chemical" in their push for passage of the Safe Chemicals Act. The charge: that chemical manufacturers have been duping Americans about the dangers of their products in the same way tobacco did, and need to be similarly outed and regulated.

Joe Chemical

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Return to Marlboro Country

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The groups' first ad, in the June 13 edition of Politico, paired a Joe Camel ad from 1991 with a 2012 visual of the iconic mascot holding a beaker of bubbling green liquid. The second print ad in Politico on June 27 showed the Marlboro Man with lasso in hand, riding off on horseback into a sepia sunset.

Text below each visual, formatted like the government-mandated warning on cigarette packs, accuses chemical makers of being deceptive about science and their products and incapable of policing themselves: "We need the Safe Chemicals Act."

Meanwhile, from 30,000 feet, the escalating war on soda and other sugary drinks looks rather like the war against tobacco, although the battles are more legislative than legal. At the city and county level, from the Acela corridor and Chicago to Los Angeles and San Francisco, elected officials are pushing Big Soda to alleviate the obesity-driven health-care costs to which its products arguably contribute.

The industry's Washington muscle, the American Beverage Association, has spent about $16 million on TV ads so far this year trying to head off such efforts, closing in on double the $9.7 million they spent on TV for all of 2011. The ads assure the public and policymakers that beverage makers are committed to helping to combat obesity. Airing in both English and Spanish, the latest ad has appeared on national network, national cable, and spot TV in 11 markets. It highlights the industry's development of smaller portion sizes and more low- and zero-calorie drinks, the addition of clear calorie labels, and the replacement of high-calorie soft drinks in schools with lower-calorie options.

ABA ads have aired in Los Angeles (almost $2.7 million), where the county public health department launched an anti-soft drink campaign in late 2011; San Francisco ($1.2 million), where a November ballot measure would raise city taxes on sweetened beverages; Chicago ($2.2 million), where another tax is on the table; Boston ($900,000), where Mayor Thomas Menino recently banned the sale of soft drinks on municipal property; Philadelphia ($1.3 million), where Mayor Michael Nutter has been pushing a tax on sugary drinks; and Baltimore ($448,000), where a beverage tax was just extended.

In Washington, the ABA has spent about $2.5 million this year reaching opinion elites and federal policymakers on spot TV, and has placed well over 100 print ads in the front sections of the New York Times and Washington Post as well as the DC influencer-focused publications since January 1.

Nanny Bloomberg

The Center for Consumer Freedom is pushing back against Mayor Bloomberg. [Click to view the ad]

Optically, however, the biggest threat to the industry is Mayor Mike Bloomberg's call to ban soft drink portions above 16 ounces in New York. Knowing that as New York goes, so go other cities, the ABA is engaging in serious outdoor advertising there in addition to the $3.3 million it has spent in ads on national network and cable TV. A public hearing hosted by the city health board is scheduled for July 24.

And the Center for Consumer Freedom has targeted the mayor as well.

A recent white paper by the Berkeley Media Studies Group and the Public Health Advocacy Institute points out that Big Soda began using corporate social responsibility to try and head off regulation far sooner than Big Tobacco. "As they did with tobacco, public health advocates need to counter industry CSR with strong denormalization campaigns to educate the public and policymakers about the effects of soda CSR campaigns and the social ills caused by sugary beverages," the authors advise.

Elizabeth Wilner is VP of Kantar Media's CMAG, which tracks and analyzes broadcast TV advertising content, placement and spend.
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