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
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
’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
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
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?’