Smoking is Good for You Now?

by Ryan Gaviria, http://www.neo-vox.org, May 14, 2009

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When advertisements no longer work, companies start to look towards reinventing themselves. G, formerly known as Gatorade, is one of the many firms today that are trying to change their image. In this particular example, G is trying to no longer be viewed as a sports drink, but as a tasteful electrolyte beverage that appeals to everyone. When a company reinvents itself, they are paying for a second chance. M3 is showing the struggling companies of today's market that any product can have an "Extreme Makeover" look, as long as it is done properly.

Thank You for Smoking
is a terrific example, because no business has a worse image than cigarette companies. While this approach may be viewed as unorthodox and extremely far-fetched, Thank You for Smoking provides marketing professionals with ideas so crazy they just might work in the current economic climate. First, meet Nick Naylor, played by Aaron Eckhart, who is the lead spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies, a division created to find out if lung cancer can be directly linked to cigarettes. His philosophy is, "...if you argue correctly, you're never wrong." Second, watch the many marketing strategies Nick Naylor uses to try to improve the public opinion of cigarettes. Finally, implement these strategies if you are a struggling company, but approach it with caution because few firms get more than one chance at reinventing themselves.

Public services are a great way to improve a company's name. It is a way for the community to see that a company is not all about making money, but cares for the well-being of its consumers. Thank You for Smoking begins with Nick Naylor on a talk show next to the president of Mothers against Teen Smoking, the Chairwoman of The Lung Association, the top aide of Health and Human Services, and "Cancer Boy". He is not well liked, for obvious reasons, but with fast talking is able to turn the crowd around and even become publicly friendly with "Cancer Boy." He informs the audience that the company he represents is about to launch a 50 million dollar ad campaign to persuade kids not to smoke, because there is nothing more important than the children. When using this strategy, it is important for a company to know it only gets one opportunity to get the public on its side. A firm needs to look genuine, and that is why Nick Naylor did not announce that the tobacco companies' original intentions of launching the five million dollar campaign, because, "Five million dollars will get you a couple of subway posters; it's not going to impress anyone."

After Nick Naylor comes back from his trip, his boss, B.R., informs him that sales are down across the board, even teen smoking. This is considered big, because as B.R. puts very eloquently, "...they're cool, and available, and addictive. The job is almost done for us." In response, Eckhart's character brings up another effective way to promote a product's image. Positive product placement will help any company fix its image. If the public can associate a company's product with a role model (such as a celebrity or well-known public figure) they will be inclined to associate themselves with that product.

G endorses a wide variety of celebrities ranging from Derek Jeter to the dance group, JabbaWockeeZ, to Lil' Wayne. Nick Naylor reminds everyone in his meeting of the very same idea when he mentions that cigarette sales boomed in the 1920's mainly because of the creation of talking pictures, when heroic actors and seductive actresses needed to do something with their hands. Today raging lunatics, later to be known as R.A.V.'s (Russians, Arabs, and Villains), are the only actors seen smoking in movies, which will make viewers reluctant to be associated with that particular product. Nick Naylor proposes the tobacco company fund a movie, and in return the movie will have Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta Jones smoke cigarettes after an intimate scene. Naylor knows positive product placement is imperative to increase sales and create a long term positive image for his product.

The "Friendly Payoff" is an interesting damage control strategy the movie uses, because it makes the line between endorsement and bribery a little blurry. In Thank You for Smoking, Nick Naylor is sent to see Lorne Lutch, the original Marlboro Man, because Lutch is creating negative press about cigarettes after he discovers he has lung cancer. Naylor is instructed to just give the money to Lutch in exchange for his silence, but Naylor knows that is no way to handle an angry customer with an influential voice. Instead he presents the money to Lutch by pouring it all on the floor so he can fully understand the amount they are offering and then gives him two options. One option is for Lutch to use the money to start up a charity for lung cancer, which would allow him to continue to badmouth the tobacco industry. If this option was picked the tobacco companies would have made it seem like a public service, in which they gave a sizeable donation in the fight to cure lung cancer. The second option is for Lutch to take the money as a gift for remaining a loyal customer. While this not the most ethical strategy, it is creative and effective by making it not appear like "hush money." Naylor is not surprised that Lutch takes the money because, "...you'd have to be crazy to turn down all that money. When I saw he wasn't crazy I knew he would take it."

It is time for companies to forget about the traditional marketing techniques and to start attempting the absurd. Using a movie like Thank You for Smoking can provide companies with several techniques to reestablish their image that books, written by research firms, might overlook because they are not the standard way. The main objective for firms who try and reinvent themselves is to be given a chance. A company should start thinking about what strategies to take when customers' decisions are made by the competition. Fixing a company's image is to have the customer rethink about their stature with firm. If a product is given a bad image from society, it turns people off before they are able to decide for themselves and that is the greatest crime of all.


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