CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/BT CELLNET AND TOBACCO INITIATIVES - Manufacturers warn of dangers of own products. But will the public think it is just another marketing ploy, Lisa Campbell asks

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.

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

says.



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

flights.



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

people.



This will be seen as just a smokescreen for them to hide behind,’ he

asserts.



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

claims.



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.



Perspective, p14.



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