CLOSE-UP PERSPECTIVE: Suspicions raised when conscience suddenly kicks in

One hesitates to suggest that big, respected companies must be trying to curry favour with consumers by adopting a socially responsible tone, but that is the only logical explanation that I can find for two current campaigns.

One hesitates to suggest that big, respected companies must be

trying to curry favour with consumers by adopting a socially responsible

tone, but that is the only logical explanation that I can find for two

current campaigns.



The first, for BT Cellnet, has been adapted from work by a Toronto

agency by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. As the industry’s first public

information campaign, it takes the unusual step of telling customers to

switch off their phones in cinemas, theatres, restaurants and meetings.

All right, at pounds 150,000 it’s a snip of a campaign, the real value

of which will derive from the spin-off PR, but what it boils down to is

agency and client doing what they do best - finding a way of encouraging

the audience to see the advertiser in the the best possible light.



And then there’s the PR-driven campaign to discourage under-age smoking

by the worldwide tobacco industry (Campaign, last week). Philip Morris,

the lead player, has already tested a dollars 100 million youth

anti-smoking campaign in the US with public information-style ads

created by Leo Burnett.



I’d guess the strategy will be based on three things: the view that peer

pressure, not advertising, is the cause of youth smoking; seizing the

political centre and forcing the antis to take extreme positions;

aligning the industry with a sophisticated view of the problem,

specifically, parental inability to offset peer pressure. Tactically,

that could mean anything from advertising, to retailer and in-store

communication, to the use of knowledgeable media ’experts’.



The fact is that as long as tobacco can be legally sold, the industry

has every right to create anti-smoking campaigns. It’s not the exclusive

domain of anti-smoking advocates, nor of governments. Freedom of

expression and approach for advertisers is a basic economic right, after

all.



But is it really true that tobacco manufacturers want to prevent

teenagers smoking out of concern for their health? Or, for that matter,

that the drinks industry would have moved to control the marketing

excesses of alcopop manufacturers for any other reason than escaping

statutory regulation?



Or that either industry would have lifted a finger had the argument been

running in their favour, rather than away from them? No, because

consumers’ experience of all advertised products tells them it’s not

like that and indeed life’s not like that.



Anti-smoking campaigners have argued convincingly that it is morally

indefensible to promote a substance to adolescents as sophisticated that

is in reality associated with disease and premature death. That’s why

the tobacco industry is being dressed up as a responsible citizen and

the advertising industry - the creator of successful campaigns, first

for Benson & Hedges, later for Silk Cut, that were a direct reaction to

legal restrictions - has been invited to help with the zip.