Each year Cannes Festival features “The Good Track”, which shines a spotlight on life-changing work and initiatives which make the world a better place. This year’s Good Track had a plethora of inspiring individuals and brands on the lineup who are truly taking steps to make the world a better place.
And then there was Phillip Morris, the world’s largest cigarette company. In 2016 the company pledged to make the world smoke-free. It didn’t set itself a target for when this might be, or even elaborate much more but it came to Cannes Lions speaking proudly about the investment it has put into its new e-cigarette line, IQOS and how many people it has helped switch from normal cigarettes.
On the surface, this all seems pretty impressive. The brand is helping people quit and investing in technology that many cite as being far less harmful than cigarettes. Under the slogan “A year of unsmoke”, Phillip Morris seem to be intent on changing the world for the better.
The problem is that this is a prime example of corporate deception. It’s one thing for Phillip Morris to talk about a smoke-free world but it’s another for it to make it happen, and this is something that it’s clearly not doing.
While PM is marketing it’s new electronic cigarettes in wealthier Western countries, like the UK, where cigarettes are falling out of fashion, it’s aggressively marketing traditional cigarettes in poorer countries.
In these countries the laws are more relaxed and there’s less education available about the negative side-effects of smoking. Just weeks before Phillip Morris announced the launch of the “Year of Unsmoke”, it unveiled a new high-tar, high-nicotine cigarette brand in Indonesia called “Bold”. Anyone else thinks this feels a little hypocritical?
After all, it’s pretty misleading to talk about moving towards a smoke-free world when you’re still pushing deadly products in less developed countries and relentlessly targeting young people through advertising. It’s manipulative and makes the brand’s messaging feel disingenuous.
It’s another example of a brand tripping itself up because it didn’t have all its ducks in a row and its messaging didn’t align with its actions. The connected world we live in means that people can and will sniff out any discrepancies in a brand’s messaging, so transparency is key, especially for a cigarette company.