Weekly Web Watch: OK, so smoking is bad, but I’m a nice guy, says Marlboro Man

The Marlboro Man (aka Philip Morris) has been on the defensive of late. Battle-weary, not to mention rather nicotine and tar-stained, he’s decided it’s time to try and polish up his image a bit. And he’s throwing a lot of money at the task as well.

The Marlboro Man (aka Philip Morris) has been on the defensive of late. Battle-weary, not to mention rather nicotine and tar-stained, he’s decided it’s time to try and polish up his image a bit. And he’s throwing a lot of money at the task as well.

The Marlboro Man (aka Philip Morris) has been on the defensive of

late. Battle-weary, not to mention rather nicotine and tar-stained, he’s

decided it’s time to try and polish up his image a bit. And he’s

throwing a lot of money at the task as well.



There are those much-publicized TV ads, focusing on hunger relief,

support for victims of domestic violence and other good works by the

Philip Morris ’family of companies,’ which includes Kraft Foods and

Miller Brewing.



One of the ads, for instance, tells the story of how a Miller plant put

a hold on the beer to supply bottled water to people in the flooded town

of Elba, Alabama. If you didn’t already know that Philip Morris was

America’s biggest cigarette maker you could probably be forgiven for

thinking, on the evidence of the ads, that it’s a big charitable

foundation with a few commercial activities on the side.



A new web site (www.philipmorris.com) is a key part of the dollars 100

million campaign. It is here that the real image work is being done,

where anybody who is really interested in any of the subjects raised by

the ads can go for depth and detail. It is where you get can background

about the stories told in the ads, and lists of the organizations that

Philip Morris, Kraft and Miller give to and work with. The web site is

also where Philip Morris has chosen to come clean. At least, it hopes we

will all think it has finally come clean.



’There is an overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that

cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other

serious diseases in smokers,’ the site tells us. ’Smokers are far more

likely to develop serious diseases, like lung cancer, than non-smokers.

There is no ’safe’ cigarette. These are and have been the messages of

public health authorities worldwide. Smokers and potential smokers

should rely on these messages in making all smoking-related decisions.’

After all those years of denial, stonewalling and pseudo-science

masquerading as ’research,’ that statement is about as definite a PR

retreat as any company has had to make.



On the point of addiction, also the subject of constant denial by the

big cigarette makers, Marlboro Man now has his head bowed, hat held up

to his heart, as he tries to fit his bulky frame into the

confessional.



’Cigarette smoking is addictive, as that term is most commonly used

today. It can be very difficult to quit smoking, but this should not

deter smokers who want to quit from trying to do so,’ the web site says.

It’s a far more frank admission of the risks than has ever come from a

tobacco company to date.



Given the scale of the about-face, and its very public nature, Philip

Morris must have hoped it would be welcomed a little more warmly than it

has been, especially by President Clinton, who has been rather grudging

in his acceptance of the company’s new position. That hasn’t been

welcomed more wholeheartedly is at least partly due to the ’too little,

too late’ factor.



But there is also something curiously unconvincing about both the web

site and the ad campaign. There is no denying that it’s all very

slick.



But the web site is still rather too brochure-like. It has no real

function, other than as a place to go to read a lot of information about

good works and a little bit about tobacco. The central assumption seems

to be that you can buy forgiveness, and that is where the problem lies.

Even Mafia bosses are nice to their families and dispense a lot of

charity. It is how they buy a sort of legitimacy in the communities

around them. It doesn’t lessen the misery they might cause

elsewhere.



Philip Morris seems to be saying, in effect: ’I have sinned, but I have

sinned responsibly and have done a lot of good things too. Now can I

have a license to carry on sinning, please?’



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.