To win PM review, ditch sales pitch

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Altria Group's Philip Morris USA is considering a review for its corporate-responsibility and youth-smoking-prevention accounts, begging the question: How does a marketer choose an agency that will be tasked, in part, with highlighting what's wrong with the client's product?

Answer: Very carefully, according to Philip Morris.

"We recognize the product is addictive and causes serious disease, but we don't think there's an irony in the advertising," said Jennifer Golisch, spokesperson for the Richmond, Va.-based tobacco company. "The [corporate-responsibility] advertising campaign highlights as a resource for information such as quitting smoking and how to talk to kids about not smoking. We understand people want to hear more from us."

But it's quite a challenge for an agency. Of the $103 million Philip Morris spent in U.S. measured media last year, $83 million went for public-service advertising, creating the strange situation of asking agencies to create one campaign that pushes the brand and another that demonstrates the risks of smoking. And wouldn't a tobacco company want the latter kind of work to be deliberately unappealing?

Not according to one executive who handles responsibility advertising for a Philip Morris rival: "Yeah, it's strange, more or less," he said. "But from this end, I can tell you point blank that we never tried to `downplay' our creativity in doing corporate-responsibility ads. It's a serious topic; what are you going to do?"

Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, handles the Philip Morris corporate-responsibility account and WPP Group's Y&R Advertising does Philip Morris' youth-smoking-prevention business. Y&R and Burnett-also agency of record for Philip Morris' general creative account-referred calls to the marketer.

One of Philip Morris' latest ads from Burnett deals with the company's actions on tobacco issues. A voice-over tells viewers that Philip Morris has voluntarily removed ads from the backs of magazines and that it is the major sponsor of the "We Card" program. A Y&R ad is also straightforward, with a voice-over citing research that shows children whose parents regularly talk to them about not smoking are less likely to smoke.

Already banned from advertising on TV in the early 1970s, the tobacco companies took a further hit in 1998 with the Master Settlement Agreement, which bars cigarette marketers from using cartoons, outdoor advertising, including billboards and stadium signs, and transit advertisements such as those on taxis and at bus stops.

master settlement

Most of the tobacco company's traditional ad spending-sampling and guerrilla efforts are harder to measure-now goes into corporate responsibility. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Philip Morris has paid more than $18.5 billion to states as part of the Master Settlement; contributed more than $780 million to American Legacy Foundation, which runs the hard-hitting "Truth" anti-tobacco company campaigns; and has spent more than $500 million on youth-smoking prevention.

For proof of the seismic shift in spending, look no further than the biggest-selling cigarette in the U.S., Philip Morris' Marlboro. The company spent $32 million in measured media on it in 2001, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. That went to less than $2 million a year later and virtually nothing last year.

On the spending, Ms. Golisch would only say, "We're focusing our spending on price and product promotion to adult smokers at retail."

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