Report: Big tobacco's court-mandated anti-smoking ads don't go far enough with digital
- Tobacco companies finally started airing court-mandated "corrective statements" — essentially anti-smoking messages that detail the habit's catalog of health risks — last week via prime-time TV commercials broadcast on CBS, NBC and ABC and full-page print advertisements in newspapers, including The New York Times, the Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. However, some industry watchdogs believe these efforts, which stem from a judicial ruling brought down in 2006, aren't going far enough to get in front of younger consumers where they are consuming their content in 2017, according to a report in Adweek.
- Speaking to Adweek, Robin Koval, the chief executive of Truth Initiative, said tobacco companies made ads they hoped few people would see given their placement and what's become a different media landscape over the past decade. She estimated the tobacco industry, which is led by brands like R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Altria and its Philip Morris USA subsidiary, collectively spends around $24 million per day — or $8 billion per year — on marketing, and that the corrective statements will cost a total of just $30 million.
- To address the issue, Truth Initiative and its agency of record 72andSunny are bringing the tobacco companies' messages to digital and social channels to ensure younger consumers receive them. Koval didn't share the exact plans on how this will be accomplished with Adweek but said her group has already started distributing PSAs on social media.
In other circumstances, third-parties working to re-distribute marketing messaging on different channels like digital and social media might come as a welcome surprise. In this case, big tobacco appears to have wanted to run its anti-smoking campaigns away from the eyes of younger consumers it could potentially hook early on, and might attempt to escalate a battle with groups like Truth Initiative in order to keep it that way.
The issue additionally points to how dramatically the marketing landscape has changed in just over a decade. In 2006, when the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia first ruled that tobacco companies had deliberately designed their products to be addictive and mandated they issue "corrective statements" as a result, smartphones were not widely adopted (the iPhone, for example, wasn't introduced until 2007). In 2017, young consumer groups like millennials and Gen Zers are frequently categorized as "digital natives," attached at the hip to their mobile devices and far less favorable toward linear TV or traditional media like print.
Talking about tobacco marketing has become a bit of a taboo for many, even as it remains a considerable business, per Koval's estimates on the amount of spending these companies put into promoting their brands. Problems with addiction and the numerous health risks associated with smoking have been widely known for decades, but anti-smoking campaigns only rolling out now underscores the hurdles the industry still has to overcome in being transparent with consumers about how harmful its product can be.
The number of cigarettes sold in the U.S. plunged by 37% between 2001 and last year, according to The Week, but tobacco brands have managed to grow revenues by jacking up the prices on packs of cigarettes.
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