As the Department of Health prepares to rush the bill to ban
tobacco advertising into law, making the most of Tony Blair's decision
to postpone the general election, it seems strange to hear a tobacco
executive waxing lyrical about an upcoming ad.
But that's exactly what Adam Bryan-Brown, the vice-president, corporate
affairs for the cigarette giant JT International, is doing. 'The work is
good and some of the plans we have for the future are exciting,' he
says. 'We've reason to believe that this campaign will be very effective
in achieving its objectives.'
Has Bryan-Brown found a way to combat the massive restrictions that
could be placed on UK cigarette advertising by the time the country goes
to the polls? It depends who you ask, but on the face of it, nothing
could be further from the truth.
The campaign in question is that being prepared by TBWA/London for JTI,
Philip Morris and British American Tobacco. Building on campaigns that
have recently run in Portugal and Russia, its stated aim is to prevent
youth smoking, something that Bryan-Brown describes as a central aim of
'For many years we've been working on programmes, including advertising,
to stop children from smoking,' he says. 'We recognise that our product
is controversial. Children don't have the ability to make an educated
choice about it and therefore we believe they shouldn't smoke. Maybe
people will find that tough to believe, but there it is.'
Some people find it particularly tough to believe. The public health
pressure group ASH has responded angrily to the prospect of the TBWA
It points out that the marketing push, which is due to appear later this
month, will coincide not only with the UK tobacco bill but also with a
World Health Organisation forum in early May aimed at establishing
international protocol on tobacco advertising. All in all, this is a
crucial time for tobacco companies to parade their credentials for
responsible marketing behaviour in front of the politicians.
'The industry's brief to the agency will be to come up with an ad
campaign that looks the part and is likely to win the approval of
politicians,' ASH's research manager, Amanda Sandford, says. 'This
campaign could well affect politicians' views of the industry and
persuade them that it's being reasonable.'
'This is nothing to do with creating an image,' David Davies, the
vice-president, corporate affairs for Philip Morris, counters. 'We do
other things to address that.'
On one level this seems a reasonable enough assertion. After all, the
anti-youth smoking campaign will not carry the brands of the tobacco
companies financing it. Instead the public will be directed to the
website of an as yet unnamed public entity which itself links to the
sites of Philip Morris and company.
'We're not making a big song and dance about this because we don't want
the focus to be on the industry but on the campaign,' Bryan-Brown
However, there's no denying that campaigns like TBWA's do have a crucial
part to play in the future of the tobacco industry. Now that tobacco
companies no longer deny its harmful effects, they need to position
smoking in a different way - as an activity of consenting adults and the
right to which is an important personal freedom. Campaigns stressing
that smoking is not for kids reinforce this position not only in the
eyes of politicians but in the eyes of potential adult smokers as
As a result, it's worth the tobacco industry's while to pour money into
this sort of work, even if it doesn't advertise their product directly.
As other methods of positioning the brand in the public's eye are
restricted, this is likely to become an ever more attractive route. JTI
already runs more than 130 anti-youth smoking programmes in more than 90
countries. The TBWA campaign will raise this activity to a global scale
and it seems reasonable to assume that similar briefs, from other
tobacco companies, could well become available in the future.
So could this new form of tobacco advertising provide some sustainable
agency cash while enabling creative directors to scribble away on briefs
with their consciences eased by the prospect of preventing youngsters
Not likely, according to ASH.
'It's not worthwhile to focus on persuading youngsters not to smoke,'
Sandford says. 'It's virtually impossible to come up with a campaign
that can do that. In fact it's likely to have the opposite effect. If
you say something is an adult habit it only makes it more attractive to
'You can't stop young people doing what they like to do,' Graham Bednash
of Michaelides & Bednash, agrees.
'They can decode corporate behaviour quite effectively now. They will
know that the tobacco companies are just trying to appeal to
According to Davies, though, the tobacco companies have pulled out all
the stops in developing the campaign - and have learned from the
mistakes of campaigns, such as those dealing with drugs and Aids, that
opt for a lecturing tone.
'One of the cornerstones has been to conduct research among parents,
teachers and the young, to understand what types of commercial will
actually be effective,' he says. 'We will feature someone from young
people's own peer group, speaking their own language, who they can
admire and who doesn't smoke.'
However, the central question over a youth anti-smoking initiative
As Bednash puts it: 'Does the campaign explain when you should start?'