Two rather unusual campaigns were announced this week, one
discouraging mobile phone use and the other under-age smoking. Nothing
odd about that, you may think, until you discover the campaigns are not
led by a consumer organisation or government body, but by the
manufacturers of the products in question.
’It may seem a little strange and no-one has done this before, but the
aim is a sensible one,’ William Ostrom, BT Cellnet’s head of corporate
communications, says. ’We’re trying to foster greater discretion when
using phones by discouraging people from holding embarrassing or
intrusive conversations in public places.’
The company launched a pounds 150,000 cinema ad last week telling people
to switch their phones off. Shot in the style of an action movie, the
two-minute ad features two bomb-disposal experts trying to defuse a
noise-sensitive device. Just as the wires are being cut, a phone rings,
triggering the bomb. Seconds before it goes off, it emerges that the
phone belongs to a member of the cinema audience. The ad ends with the
line: ’Switch it off. And please ... no talking during the movie.’
The ad, devised by a Canadian agency and adapted by Abbott Mead Vickers
BBDO, is part of a pounds 1 million public information campaign called
’switch it’. The campaign will use a combination of advertising and PR
to encourage the considerate use of phones in places such as theatres
and trains, where they are simply a nuisance, and on aeroplanes and in
hospitals where they can interfere with equipment.
The etiquette expert and Debrett author, John Morgan, will head a
national PR campaign and the message will be used in tactical
advertising, at point of sale, in direct marketing and on leaflets.
Meanwhile, all the big tobacco manufacturers - including Philip Morris,
Japan Tobacco and British American Tobacco - are collaborating in a
campaign to discourage under-age smoking.
Philip Morris has been funding this kind of advertising in the US since
1997 with its anti-teen smoking programme, Action Against Access. It put
dollars 100 million into a test programme last year through Leo Burnett,
and gave a dollars 1 million grant to the University of Pennsylvania to
establish a research and prevention programme for under-age users. The
question is whether these initiatives demonstrate a new ’caring’ side of
the business or are cynical marketing ploys.
Andy Law, chairman of St Luke’s, takes a positive view. ’I admire any
socially responsible act a business takes and there should be more cases
of companies recognising their total role in society,’ he says.
Ostrom defends BT Cellnet. ’We’re not stimulating sales or usage,’ he
asserts, but nevertheless admits the move will promote positive views of
the brand and help it stand out in a competitive market. He also admits
that if a phone company doesn’t take the lead, someone else will, and
perhaps with a more detrimental affect.
’Encouraging discreet usage will help prevent the use of phones being
limited or even banned by train companies and the like,’ Ostrom
He adds that the company also has the future in mind. As technology
develops, more devices, such as laptops, will have radio links in them,
meaning an even greater potential for public disturbance.
How the public will view the measures is also debatable. BT Cellnet’s
attempts to stop loudmouths booming into mobiles may be welcomed or it
might ring hollow, particularly after negative publicity on the possible
health risks of phones and scare stories about their misuse on
Sven Olsen, managing director of Banks Hoggins O’Shea FCB, thinks BT
Cellnet’s ad will be well received. ’The campaign promotes the use of
phones by saying that you don’t have to shout and piss people off. It’s
about withdrawing the negatives.’
He also believes the public will be more cynical about the motives of
tobacco companies. ’Tobacco manufacturers have to gain new recruits to
grow their business and many believe these recruits are young
This will be seen as just a smokescreen for them to hide behind,’ he
The move comes after months of press and World Health Organisation
reports accusing cigarette companies of targeting young people in the
Third World as a result of tougher anti-smoking laws elsewhere - a fact
that does not help their cause.
Clive Bates, the director of Action on Smoking and Health, is
unconvinced by the move. ’Telling young people not to smoke simply
reinforces the aspirational image of cigarettes that attracts young
people to them in the first place,’ he states.
Leo Campbell, managing director of Claydon Heeley, agrees on the basis
of first-hand experience with a cigarette brand. ’Tobacco companies
claim not to target young people but we were approached by one leading
brand purely on the basis of our youth marketing credentials,’ he
The tobacco manufacturers have a tough job on their hands. But perhaps
they should look to the Portman Group for inspiration. This body, which
is funded by drinks companies, runs campaigns promoting sensible
drinking with great credibility. By relinquishing control for such
campaigns to a foundation that is pro-business, companies may find their
motivation less open to question by a sceptical public.