Tobacco

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A Branding & Advertising Evolution: 1 in a Series of Musings Sparked by “The 100 Greatest Advertisements,” Julian Lewis Watkins, Dover Books, 1959

I’ve written about tobacco industry and government overreach before (here, here, here, and here). My feeling is that as long as tobacco is a legal product, and the government chooses to collect ever higher taxes from smokers, and as long as there are age restrictions and programs in place to educate young people, then there should be a balance. However, with the cost of employee health care guaranteed to keep rising, there will be ever-increasing pressure on people not to smoke, not to over eat, not to eat unhealthy foods, not to drink sugary drinks or those with artificial sweeteners, not to drive except to work, school, or essential errands, not to step off curbs. . .well, where does it end or does it ever end? The other day, I heard that some state is thinking of introducing legislation to prevent the public smoking of electronic cigarettes, the ones that produce no harmful byproducts or second-hand smoke, only steam. So, now it is the sight of someone deriving pleasure from an electronic device that simulates the smoking of a tobacco cigarette that is enough to cause psychic harm to bystanders? We have really lost our way.

When Ted Regan loaned me his copy of “The 100 Greatest Advertisements,” and began sharing Ayer stories, he didn’t know he was going to re-ignite the great tobacco/smokers’ rights debate again. This is rich territory that MadMen has visited in various episodes and might again this coming spring.

N.W. Ayer's introductory campaign to launch the then-new Camels brand.

N.W. Ayer's introductory campaign to launch the then-new Camels brand.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the most iconic of cigarette brands began life as an N.W. Ayer account. When R. J. Reynolds blended a new cigarette that they wanted to roll out as a national brand, they acquired the Camel name from a small independent company in Philadelphia for $2,500. They then budgeted 10 times that amount, so Ayer could introduce it. First, there was testing to ensure the public liked the new cigarettes — many cartons were distributed and sold through the best retail stores in Cleveland, prominently placed on top of counters. Secondarily, it was moved to parts of stores where it competed for sales with regional brands. It did well in both areas of these stores. Ayer then developed a newspaper teaser ad campaign, coordinated with the implementation of new distribution, to create interest in demand for Camels (“Tomorrow There Will Be More Camels in This Town Than in Asia and Africa Combined”). The rest is brand history. Later on, a billboard painter was quoted as saying “I’d Walk A Mile For A Camel.” That was the genesis of one of the most famous slogans in advertising history.

This Lucky Strike campaign was aimed squarely at women and against candy.

This Lucky Strike campaign was aimed squarely at women and against candy.

Long before there were Virginia Slims, developed specifically to market as a women’s cigarette brand, the American Tobacco Company decided that Lucky Strikes could be effectively marketed (against the protests of the confectionary industry) as “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet.” Motion picture starlets were hired as spokespersons to pitch the dietary cravings advantage of cigarettes over candy to women. It was a huge success, and many believe that the campaign may have been the single greatest effort leading to creating women smokers.

Hedy Lamar continued the Lucky Strike trend of movie star brand spokespersons.

Hedy Lamar continued the Lucky Strike trend of movie star brand spokespersons.

Conversely, the tobacco brand forever most associated with men is Marlboro, thanks to the efforts of Leo Burnett, where the marketing effort began. Ironically, Marlboro already existed as a high-priced exclusive cigarette sold to sophisticates and women at hotels, cigar stores, and nightclubs. Philip Morris wanted to take the brand for a new entry into the popular-priced filter field. They wanted to appeal broadly to men, and secondarily to women.

Long before the "most interesting man in the world" there was the Marlboro Man.

Long before the "most interesting man in the world" there was the Marlboro Man.

The filtered segment began in response to health concerns (more on that in a minute), but flavor was still critical in brand decision-making. Burnett realized that image was critical. And so, the Marlboro Man was born — the cowboy who bought a new brand of filtered cigarettes because he liked the taste and they came in a distinctive crush-proof box.

The Emperor of All Maladies, A Biography of Cancer, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Emperor of All Maladies, A Biography of Cancer, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Ironically, the other book I’ve been reading concurrently with Ted Regan’s loaned Ayer and advertising volumes is the exceptional, Pulitzer Prize-winning,“The Emperor of All Maladies” by Siddhartha Mukherjee, subtitled “A Biography of Cancer.”  Two later chapters touch on the battle to beat lung cancer, and the subsequent start of the government’s own battle with the tobacco industry. At that time, the tobacco industry was far more dominant than they are today. When Richard Doll and Bradford Hill published a ground-breaking study on lung cancer in 1956, the adult American population had reached a peak of 45 percent who smoked. On average, Americans smoked 11 cigarettes per day. Hard to imagine those numbers today.

"A Frank Statement," American tobacco's first salvo against medical studies linking smoking and cancer.

"A Frank Statement," American tobacco's first salvo against medical studies linking smoking and cancer.

The study’s results for the first time strongly linked smoking, tar, and tobacco with lung cancer deaths, especially when contrasted against non-smokers. With bad publicity spreading, the heads of U.S. tobacco companies decided they could not sit back and ignore what would be increasingly damaging reports. The result was a counterattack that began with a full page ad in 400 major newspapers entitled “A Frank Statement.” The text cast doubt on the quality of the science (experiments on mice vs. humans, which actually was not the case in the Doll/Hill study) and disagreements in the medical community. The topping was the announcement that the industry would be conducting its own research by the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (no conflict of interest here). A recent trip to a Baltimore antique store hammered home to me that Big Tobacco’s efforts to assure the public of the safety of cigarettes didn’t end with “A Frank Statement.” Although it never evolved into a lasting brand, Country Doctor pipe tobacco may have been the ultimate attempt to mislead the public that cancer risks from smoking were minimal to the point that the medical profession had their own preferred pack.

Country Doctor brand cigarettes. To your health!

Country Doctor brand pipe tobacco. To your health!

     Any trip to Wawa will tell you by the number of tobacco products behind the counter that Americans are still smoking, chewing, pinching, and spitting. But you’ve come a long way, baby, from a market share of half the adult population. Smoking is still a pleasurable, stress-relieving activity for a lot of people, but those who partake do so with the knowledge that they may face a bevy of health risks or early death down the road. If ever there was a product that the phrase caveat emptor was invented for, it’s cigarettes.

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A few weeks ago, I took a pretty angry stand against cancer in all its terrible forms. Not exactly going out on a limb, but I hoped to encourage others to work and contribute toward a cure — a hearty thanks to all who have done so.

A couple of things in recent days have sparked another discussion in my head about how even something so seemingly black and white as the fight against cancer can be politicized, watered down, and manipulated for questionable purposes. An example earlier this year was how two highly successful non-profits working on behalf of women can suddenly lose their way, get into petty litmus test fighting, and undo a long history of cooperation and positive outcomes. The mess between Planned Parenthood and the Susan G. Komen Foundation is complicated, nasty, and ultimately a losing proposition for both organizations. My touchstone on this and all other cancer related situations is to focus on whether the cause of cancer victims is advanced. If it isn’t, the people involved need to look themselves in the mirror and ask what could be more important.

If only politicians and government bureaucrats came with warning labels.

If only politicians and government bureaucrats came with warning labels.

Perhaps the murkiest area is when government over reaches. Packaging Digest reports on  a federal appeals court decision that threw out the FDA’s foray into creating ultra-graphic tobacco warning labels. I wrote about the case in November 2010, troubled by the over the top nature and the government’s conflict of interest in collecting tobacco taxes with one hand while wagging a finger at smokers with the other.

In its drug regulatory role, the FDA is too often intent on throwing up roadblocks against new cancer drugs, even those that have been shown to be effective in clinical trials. In the interest of attaining some sort of near-flawless safety record, the FDA has prevented promising drugs from reaching the market sooner than much later. In such instances, people with especially difficult cancers and their physicians are denied the opportunity to explore new drugs that have helped others. In many cases, such drugs are the last remaining hope. Such decisions should not be left in the hands of bureaucrats.

What really got me thinking about the politics of cancer is a public service advertising campaign launched by the LungCancerLeaders.org. Pat McGee, Vice President of Marketing, for HLP Klearfold brought it to my attention after hearing the radio spot while driving with his daughter. Both of them were struck by the thorny issues it raised.

The "No One Deserves to Die" campaign advocates on behalf of lung cancer victims.

The "No One Deserves to Die" campaign advocates on behalf of lung cancer victims.

Essentially, the non-profit (and several others devoted to helping victims of lung cancer such as NoOneDeservesToDie.org from the Lung Cancer Alliance) noted that it is a forgotten cause without ribbons, walks, and ultimately sympathy. The assumption is that those who contract lung cancer brought on their own trouble by smoking. On an individual basis, that may or may NOT be the case. Plenty of people who contract lung cancer are non-smokers. And plenty more contract lung cancer than most other forms of cancer. The creation of some kind of cosmic pecking order of cancer victims is a terrible image, but yet there it is. Cancer is cancer and when someone has contracted it, playing politics over causes, and the withholding of sympathy and support, are really, really bad ideas.

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No more super sizing in NYC.

No more super sizing in NYC.

Cheers. I would like to drink a toast to your health (with the beverage of your choice), as well as to the land where you are still free to make that choice (sort of).  There is a free enterprise battle being fought, and it is the subject of late night talk show jokes, but it could not be more serious. It is slow. It is insidious. And it is under the auspices of best intentions, but it is really about power and control.

I am referring to the current and pending over-regulation of food and drink by local, state, and federal government officials who say they are interested in controlling obesity and reducing healthcare costs. That sounds like something we should all be willing and glad to get behind. However, all of us individually can do that now for ourselves, and once government starts telling businesses how to run their business, things never end well.

The fast-food industry has been under considerable pressure for years to add healthier choices to their menus. Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” documentary vividly demonstrated the dangers of a recurring fast-food diet. Often when restaurateurs do introduce more nutritious fare, these items wither away from lack of sales — the market speaks in each case. Today, if you want to eat healthy, there ARE lots of options. Mobile phone apps like EAT THIS, NOT THAT are available to steer you away from calorie bombs and into best alternatives at individual national chains.  But if you want to pig out on an occasional basis, you still can (or should be allowed).

The recent decision by the Bloomberg administration in NYC to ban supersized soft drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces is regrettable. One segment was targeted (for now). Notice the mayor wisely decided not to try to limit over 16 ounce beer sales. He has admitted that he just wanted to make a point and get people to think.

This video produced by NYC.gov tries to make that same point and is disgustingly over the top and again at war with a single segment (the soft drink companies, plus unintentionally, all the small food businesses they help support). It ends with a push toward healthier drinks like water or milk.

So Bloomberg’s office has arbitrarily set 16 ounces as a limit. But concentration and perspective matters.  Even water, if you drink enough of it, can kill you by flushing vital minerals and nutrients from your system. So no more Deer Park cooler bottles. SOMEONE out there could harm himself.

Next up, kid cereals. This week’s Ad Age covers the increasing pressures that cereal makers find themselves under and how the industry’s ad spending is even being closely tracked (now, we are into regulation of free speech, admittedly commercial, but closely regulated). If there are two things government nanny-staters hate, it’s sugar and carbon (or maybe they secretly love them, because they open worlds of regulatory possibilities).

The government has a similar love-hate relationship with tobacco. It loves to vilify the cigarette companies for causing cancer, but would never think of banning this product, because it is so badly addicted to the tax revenue it receives from the sale of each pack and carton.

If the government would limit itself to educating the public about various health risks and requiring food and drink companies to label products clearly so consumers understand immediate and potential long-term risks and benefits, we would all be better off. Unfortunately, when industry fails to lead, the government will swoop into the resulting vacuum. Then, all bets are off. Once again, here’s to our collective health. And to a healthier business climate and national economy.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhm-22Q0PuM

Advertising is all about beautiful people (aka supermodels), looking beautiful, acting beautiful, and being beautiful while using the sponsor’s product. While this type of advertising is easy on the eyes, there is so much, it can become like wallpaper, blending into the background, barely attracting attention. This week, a new presidential campaign tv ad launched that so jarringly broke the beauty mold that it was all that every media pundit has focused on ever since. I’m talking about Herman Cain’s Smoking Man spot.

The Smoking Man (not to be confused with that mysterious X Files figure) is actually Cain’s Chief of Staff, Mark Block, who while delivering a weirdly cadenced but believably impassioned endorsement of his boss, proceeds to literally blow smoke, because he is enjoying a cigarette outside.

What is going on here? How can a man responsible for helping his boss project a positive, electable image allow himself to be videotaped matter-of-factly puffing on a cigarette. Commentators across the political spectrum, almost in unison, wondered aloud why he would set such a bad example for young people. Hint: it wasn’t by accident!

It is hard to stun people in 2011, but amazingly, this ad has managed to move the meter off the chart. The question is why? Cigarettes are a legal product. They appear often in popular entertainment (films, tv shows, and music videos). Our current president has been known to sneak outside the White House to light up. So, why is this ad so surprising?

It’s been a ridiculously long time since anyone in a tv ad smoked (except for an anti-smoking PSA). And cigarettes while legal are perhaps the most heavily regulated products on the market (with even more regulations proposed). And now, we’re getting to the crux of this message — the current regulatory and capriciously restrictive environment of the United States. At a time when people on the right, left, and in the center are fed up with feelings of powerlessness, it is strangely liberating to see a man in a tv ad smoking a cigarette. It is un-PC. It is unhealthy. It is unnervingly appealing in a defy the nanny-state way.

Already the spot’s YouTube page has attracted nearly one million visitors. Less than 10,000 have weighed in to “like” or “dislike”, but the dislikes are running well ahead, not exactly a scientific poll, but a trend nonetheless.

It is too early to tell whether this is a spark for the Cain campaign or just a weird reminder that America is still free even if the Marlboro Man isn’t allowed to ride the broadcast range anymore.

Update: Election year news cycles are notoriously short. It’s exactly one week later and Mr. Cain is dealing with fire instead of smoke this week. So far, the sexual harassment allegations are sketchy, but the candidate’s handling of the media questioning has been spotty at best. Consistency and accuracy of story is critical when it comes to crisis PR.  If you believe the old adage that this is no BAD PR, Mr. Cain has had two news-dominating weeks.

When is the last time you saw a man smoke a cigarette in a TV spot?

When is the last time you saw a man smoke a cigarette in a TV spot?

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This one is wrong on so many levels, I am not sure where to begin. One of the biggest stories of the week is the FDA’s intention to require graphic new warning labels depicting cancer and other bad outcomes on the packaging of cigarettes sold in the United States.
I am all for visceral advertising that packs an emotional wallop to change hearts and minds. A wealth of public service spots carrying this message have been in the public domain for decades. This, however, is not advertising. What this is is a series of well designed, slickly produced package warning labels, each added to a legal product sold to adults who willingly purchase that product. It is hard to believe that any cigarette smoker at this point in human history could possibly be unaware of the harmful effects of smoking.
This is a great example of big government overreach at cross purposes with itself. The FDA’s goal is to get everyone to stop smoking by every means necessary. Is there a more regulated product than tobacco? Tobacco companies are not allowed to use broadcast advertising, because it might seduce new smokers, especially young people. Heavy penalties are in place to discourage retailers from selling tobacco products to minors. Municipal regulations have driven smokers out of public places to the great outdoors to light up (casinos appear to be the exception). Print advertising and packages already carry ominous text-based warning labels. Then, there is the matter of extreme taxes slapped on cigarettes to force smokers to make an economic decision about smoking. The enormous tax revenues reaped by government off a product that the FDA could ban outright suggests enormous hypocrisy and a conflict of interest. Finally, where does Big Brother get off plastering graphic images of disease and death all over commercial packaging. Why stop with cigarettes? How about photos of liposectioned fat featured on the front of Big Mac cartons? Car crash decapitations added to new car stickers? Melanoma posters in tanning salon windows? Many slippery slopes lie ahead.

One of the FDA's tasteful new warning labels.

One of the FDA's tasteful new warning labels.

What bothers me the most about this latest effort, however, is another nail driven in the coffin of civility. Just because the Feds CAN do something doesn’t mean that they SHOULD. Cigarette breath is one thing. This is just in really bad taste.
During college, I went to transfer a car title at the local justice of the peace. In his office was a poster of a smoker whose jaw and lower half of his face were gone from cancer; the poster bore the cheery greeting, “Thank You For Not Smoking.” Once the transaction was over, I left disturbed by what I’d seen, but also alarmed that this man was okay with having this horrible image of disfigurement and impending death staring back at him, eight hours a day, five days a week. Nice treat for his office staff, too.
This new round of warning labels brought back another memory. One Saturday, I was driving through the next town with my elementary age son. Abortion protestors were staging a demonstration and some were standing by the road with incredibly graphic signs featuring images of dead fetuses. Freedom of speech may allow zealots to expose young children to those shocking photographs, but wouldn’t a sense of decency kick in at some point in their protest planning process. A punch in the gut isn’t a winning debate strategy.
At a time when we are looking for ways to reduce big government spending and the growing deficit, I nominate the new cigarette warning labels program to get lopped off by the grim reaper’s axe. How’s that for a graphic image of death?

Update: A preliminary injunction has been granted against the Food and Drug Administration’s new requirement for graphic warning labels. Suit was filed by Lorrilard on constitutional/free speech grounds. Read all about it here in Packaging Digest.

Update: Looks like the Feds came to their senses. I’m sure it was after they read this blog post.

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