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November 23, 2004


Welcome to Marlboro Country


Ever since the class action suits against big tobacco companies in 1998, companies like Philip Morris have had to change the way they promote their cigarettes in this country. This, along with an enormous potential population of smokers overseas, has prompted many companies to target most of their biggest campaigns at foreigners. The LA Times has a great piece (login req'd) on the creepy and secretive 2004 Adventure Team, a 12-day outdoor tour of Utah's Moab Desert for a group of 42 people, ages 22-24, all from countries in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. If they are selected from the application process (which requires all kinds of revelation of personal consumer habits) they get a free trip to the US, ride around in jeeps, hike, wear western hats, and pretend to be cowboys. All the while associating all that freedom and natural beauty with Marlboro cigarettes.

Americans are less likely to respond to all that "Come to where the flavor is" marketing stuff, ever since some of the original Marlboro cowboys came forward with lung cancer in the 1990's. Many people from other countries still love fake cowboys and images of the old west of America (as evidenced by the social clubs of Germans who dress up as Native Americans.) They seem to have a great time on their vacation celebrating American values, like smoking.

An American value that Philip Morris and the Adventurers seem to value less is freedom of the press. The LA Times article is structured around the efforts of the reporter and photographer to gain access to members of the group and the guides, which are mostly rebuffed. They are told to go away by the field guides, the owner of some of the private land used during the Adventure, and by some of the foreign participants themselves. One woman shouts at them, "Why are you bothering us? This is not American." It appears that Philip Morris used to allow some American journalists on the annual tour, but recently decided against allowing any American participants at all. One executive says, "We want the winners to experience the freedom of America. And we find this is easiest when Americans are not part of the event."

So Philip Morris are shilling for a mostly non-existent vision of America to young people from other countries, in an effort to associate their brand of cigarettes with freedom, beauty, and unspoiled nature. But in their execution of this supposed celebration of American values, they actually reveal what have become some of the most pervasive values in corporate America: wilfull manipulation of imagery, corporate secrecy, intimidation and control of media, and marketing campaigns that intrude into consumers' personal lives.

Be sure to read to the end of the article, in which one of the participants offers to the reporter the she actually isn't a smoker. A German rep from Philip Morris overhears this, and freaks out all over the reporter, yelling that he is rude and ordering him to leave, saying, "We never ask these rude questions in Europe!" So much for American freedoms.

categories: Business, Health, International
posted by amy at 4:17 PM | #

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