It's been all over the news this past week. The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., under intense pressure from anti-smoking groups and members of Congress over print ads for its cigarettes, announced that it would not advertise its brands in newspapers or consumer magazines next year.
As reported in the Washington Post, the company had been criticized sharply for both its colorful and feminine Camel No. 9 ads, which appeared in fashion magazines and were seen as cynically aimed at young women, and also for a recent ad in Rolling Stone.
I am perhaps the least likely person to come out in defense of a tobacco company. I hate cigarette smoking. Hate it. It's annoying, dirty, unhealthy and, unfortunately, legal. Here's the problem with all this flap about RJ Reynolds and their advertising. It's a pretty scary thing when any company that is manufacturing and marketing a product that is legal for adults to purchase is put under this kind of pressure by groups who claim to be protecting our children, and the politicians who pander to them. It's a slippery slope my friends, and one that should be of major concern to everyone in the advertising industry.
The latest complaints are about RJ Reynolds' Camel No. 9 ads, which were launched early this year on thick, shiny paper in fuchsia or teal and are adorned with images of roses and lace. A group of Congress members, led by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., have been urging women's magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Glamour to stop accepting the ads, saying they threaten the health of the teenagers and young women who form a large part of their readership. This is an all too familiar tune, similar to the claims made several years ago that RJR was targeting kids with its Joe Camel cartoon character. I didn't agree then, and still don't. Just because the campaign used a "cartoon" camel it doesn't mean they were trying to get nine-year-olds to light up. Were they targeting a younger demographic? Sure, but not the SpongeBob crowd.
Regarding the Camel No. 9 campaign, here's a news flash - lots of women smoke. Adult women who should know better. And yes, it is like kissing an ashtray. But what's wrong with RJR using its marketing savvy and creativity to get women who choose to smoke to try their new brand?
Let's look at the facts. Sometimes kids happen to see advertising that is not really meant for them. Kids also see their parents smoking and engaging in various other forms of unhealthy behavior too. Want healthier kids? Hey Mom, how about fewer trips to the MacDonalds drive-through?
The Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which has long protested the Camel ads, called the company's decision to curtail print ads in 2008 "more a strategy to deflect criticism than a real change in marketing." Matthew Myers, president of the group, said it was unfortunate that R.J. Reynolds had not committed to permanently stop print advertising.
Sorry to dissappoint you, Matt, but don't you think this company has obligations to its shareholders and employees to market products successfully so that it can maintain profitability?
The Washington Post report continues this absurdity - Myers also says RJR has far to go to curtail what his group calls egregious marketing practices, which include promotions at bars and nightclubs. So, I guess in order to protect all the children who are hanging out in bars in nightclubs, we really should make RJR stop this evil, nasty stuff. God forbid someone should purchase a pack of smokes during a night of drinking, then actually be seen smoking by an innocent child!
Enough already. Here I go quoting Ogilvy again, but never has it been a better time to remind these people that "the enemies of advertising are the enemies of freedom."
I hate smoking. I like women. If it's legal to buy cigarettes and smoke them, let's stop trying to demonize marketers and their advertising. And let's get those kids out of the bars!