MIC’d Up: Philip Morris Doesn’t Understand Brand Authenticity – An Anti-Case Study

, May 3, 2019

CATEGORIES: Consumer Innovation Group
TAGS: , ,

Last week, Philip Morris debuted their new life insurance company Reviti. That’s right, the 172-year-old tobacco giant is selling policies for “people who love life,” but you’d miss the business connection if you aren’t paying attention (remember this – it’s important).

Starting at £5/month, it’s cheaper than a pack of Marlboro’s. What’s more, former smokers or those who switch to a less life-threatening habit, like vaping, will receive an additional 2.5% discount on premiums. And, if you vape with Philip Morris’ heated tobacco product iQOS for at least three months, you’ll receive an additional 25% discount.

This isn’t the first time the company has encouraged consumers to stop smoking. Just over a year ago they launched a New Year’s resolution campaign to give up cigarettes, promoting the use of safer alternative products. This new insurance initiative plays along those same lines.

Now, back to my comment about the business connection. What we have here is the culmination of a very clever marketing strategy. As the industry leader, Philip Morris is privy to tobacco trends, and I bet they’ve noticed that consumers are smoking less and vaping more year over year. Reviti is the missing link that helps them adapt to this market shift, while maintaining their newfound, do-good identity.

Can we all agree that their approach is a bit disingenuous, though?

They’re saying all the right things to convince consumers they care, but when we dig a little deeper, it’s clear they’re only encouraging safer alternatives to smoking and offering compelling incentives in order to better grow their business. What’s worse, they’re encouraging non-smokers to take up harmful habits for a cheaper policy.

At the crux of brand authenticity lies truth. Now, I’m not saying truth isn’t stretched at times or adapted to better suit business needs, but it must be within reason (here’s an example of a great campaign, start to finish). Otherwise, you run the risk of deploying a confused marketing strategy or falling victim to the worst form of brand hypocrisy. In Philip Morris’ case, I’m afraid it could be the latter.

As partner agencies, it’s our job to be the last line of defense for our clients and consumers. Sometimes, though, we’re left playing a game of catch-up. In my experience, reputation management has played a pivotal role in helping with disaster relief. Establishing a crisis communications plan, while time-intensive, can help with the brunt of the backlash and even prepare you for unforeseen fallout.

It’s unclear whether Philip Morris considers this a crisis at all. What we do know is there are plans to expand the campaign, according to UK head of corporate affairs Mark MacGregor. But based on the tidal wave of criticism, all I have to say is please, Mark, don’t.