Cigarette companies skirt advertising ban

By Carmela Fonbuena, Newsbreak

Posted at Jul 08 2009 11:35 PM | Updated as of Jul 10 2009 03:06 AM

They engage in subtle but more effective promotional activities

2nd of 2 parts

Now prohibited from advertising their products in the so-called “paid media”—television, radio, and newspapers—tobacco companies have found ways to defeat the ban through subtle but potentially more effective promotional activities.

Their activities range from donating to community projects to influencing the content of movies or shows to being the subject of positive news reports.

Advertising specialists told Newsbreak that these new approaches taken by tobacco companies may be “more expensive,” but they sure “built relationships” with consumers and can therefore help maintain, if not expand, the tobacco market.

The Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 stopped the elaborate marketing strategy of tobacco companies in the “paid media.” Anti-tobacco advocates have reported violations of the ad ban in province-based television and radio stations, but noted that the national media have generally heeded the law.

The law, however, has been unable to prevent the invasion of “free media”—the very content of news and entertainment media—by tobacco products and brands.

Under the Radar

“In the first place, in promoting their cigarettes, tobacco companies never really limited themselves to media advertising,” said an advertiser who used to be involved in creating ads for an international cigarette brand.

Another advertiser warned that, outside the broadcast and print media, tobacco companies engage in skillfully planned promotional activities that could even be stronger in pulling consumers.

“We were even joking that cigarette companies may have invented below-the-line advertising,” the advertiser said.

“Below-the-line” advertising refers to any form of promotions outside television, radio, and print media (the so-called “above-the-line” advertising).

“Cigarette advertising is so advanced. Unlike above-the-line, they are under the radar and are hard to monitor,” the advertiser said. “TV, radio, and print are one-way—I tell you, you decide. Below-the-line advertising is interactive. It’s stronger because it builds relationships. There is feedback. But it’s more expensive. The cost-per-person is higher.”

Invading Movies

For decades, tobacco companies have paid hefty sums to promote their products in the movies. Hollywood has played a big role in portraying cigarette smoking as glamorous.

Philip Morris appeared in at least two James Bond movies—A Licencse to Kill in 1989 and Die Another Day in 2002. The company reportedly paid US$350,000 the first time.

Philippine movies adopted the same strategy. The country's biggest tobacco player, Fortune Tobacco, once appointed actor and sportsman Richard Gomez as its spokesman. Bowler Paeng Nepomuceno also endorsed cigarette brand Champion, obviously to rub his athletic prowess onto the brand.

However, the Tobacco Regulation Act has since banned tobacco companies from hiring celebrities to endorse their products.

To get around this, tobacco companies try to influence the content of films, said Anna Leah Sarabia of the Women's Media Circle, which is helping in the anti-tobacco advocacy in the Philippines.

Tobacco companies, without necessarily asking for direct endorsement of their particular brands, offer to help independent filmmakers produce their movies in exchange for showing their cigarettes in any of the scenes, no matter how briefly, Sarabia explained.

Since “it’s hard [to find] sponsors now, many filmmakers can be easily influenced. They might not see anything wrong with it,” Sarabia said.

She said these forms of “soft advertising” should also be banned. “We don't need another law. It's just another interpretation of the Tobacco Regulation Act,” she said.

CSR in the News

Tobacco companies have also maintained their presence in newspapers, particularly through their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities.

CSR activities of Fortune Tobacco made it in the news last year, for example. Major newspapers and at least one television network featured stories on the efforts of Lucio Tan, Fortune Tobacco owner, to help the tobacco farmers in the Ilocos region, where the bulk of his raw materials come from.

He spent P4 million to rehabilitate the Silag-Pacang diversion dam to help the farmers irrigate the tobacco fields.

But among tobacco companies, Philip Morris is appears to be the most generous. It is known for its donations to local government units, charities, and government agencies, most, if not all, of which are reported in newspapers.

Last year, anti-tobacco advocates were alarmed by a photo of Philip Morris Philippines Manufacturing Inc. managing director Chris Nelson with Philippine National Red Cross chairman Senator Richard Gordon published in newspapers.

Newspapers ran a story on Philip Morris’s P2-million donation to Red Cross, which was given on Gordon’s 63rd birthday in August 2008.

Problems in Monitoring

The tobacco ad ban covers below-the-line promotional and sponsorship activities, but the government doesn’t seem to have enough capabilities and resources to monitor violations of this ban.

“Promotion” is defined as any activity organized by tobacco companies or any display of tobacco products or manufacturer’s name, trademark, or logo. “Sponsorship,” on the other hand, is defined as any contribution to a third party in relation to any event with the aim of promoting a brand of tobacco product.

Promotions must be directed to persons at least 18 years of age and limited in point of sale. The name, logo, and indicia of cigarette brands may appear in smoking-related promotional materials such as cigarette lighters and ashtrays, but not in other merchandise such as T-shirts caps, sweatshirts, visors, backpacks, sunglasses, writing implements, and umbrellas.

It cannot pay for sports teams to promote the product, or build infrastructure like stadiums under its name. The law also tasks tobacco companies to “take all available measures to prevent third parties from using the company’s brand names and logo.”

Cigarette and tobacco companies are prohibited from sponsoring any sport, concert, cultural, or art event, as well as individual and team athletes, artists, or performers where such sponsorship shall require or involve the advertisement or promotion of any tobacco company or brand. The attribution only to the name of the company in the roster of sponsors shall be allowed.

“Promo girls” are most common in the Philippines. Pretty girls are recruited to distribute cigarettes in parties sponsored by the tobacco companies. This is the lowest level of promotional activity.

“Promotion girls that will continue. They are much hotter now. I think for as long as Hollywood and the glamorous people in entertainment are puffing away we will continue to puff away,” an advertising specialist told Newsbreak.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance of the Philippines (FCAP) laments that TV and radio stations in the provinces still carry cigarette ads, but the most common and frequent violation of the ban is through outdoor advertisings, like billboard or sari-sari store signboards. (“Images: Tobacco ad ban defied—every day”)

Concert Sponsorships

Anti-tobacco advocates are fighting a protracted battle, but there have been successes here and there.

Philip Morris tried in 2008 to sponsor the reunion concert of popular '90s band Eraserheads, but strong and sustained protests against the activity forced Phillip Morris to bow down and back out.

It was a skillfully prepared activity. Philip Morris did not immediately reveal that they were organizing the concert for its Marlboro brand.

Eraserheads fans got excited when word spread that Eraserheads would reunite. But while the sponsor remained a mystery, searches in the Internet led fans to a certain site—the web site of Marlboro.

It took an anti-tobacco advocate in the United States to uncover the mystery. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) president Matthew Myers wrote Philip Morris CEO Louis Camilleri to demand that the company withdraw its sponsorship of the concert.

In his response to Myers, Camilleri confirmed the company's hand in the concert, but he said the activity was well within the limits of the law.

“The promotional event you refer to is an invitation-only event, not open to the general public. It is restricted to our trade partners and to adult smokers who can obtain an invitation by registering to our adult-only-access Web site, where they must provide proof of age through a government issued ID.

“Invitations cannot be purchased and are not transferable. Controls are in place at entry points to the event to ensure that only persons with invitations are allowed to enter and to verify that they are adults by double checking their government issued ID,” he explained in a letter to Myers.

Philip Morris was eventually pressured to drop the project The Eraserheads reunion concert pushed through and was opened to all paying fans.

CTFK was also instrumental in persuading international R&B star Alicia Keys to demand the withdrawal of Philip Morris’s sponsorship of her concert in Jakarta, Indonesia, that same year.

Lawyer Josefina Buenaseda of FCAP said they have learned of various other instances when tobacco companies sponsored events such as fiestas. Sometimes, these activities entail illegal promotional activities, such as using parasols bearing the tobacco brand, putting up billboards, and distributing prohibited give-away merchandise. (Newsbreak)


1st of 2 parts: Effects of tobacco ad ban not yet felt