Tobacco 'Truth' Adverts Spark Smoking-hot Debate

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We are all truth seekers. Authenticity rules today more than ever before. I recently wrote an article for Harvard Business Review about how brands can spark engagement and empowerment in their customers by telling the world what they’re against, rather than what they’re for (you can read it here).

And so, step forward the US Justice Department. They’ve decided that they want the major tobacco co’s to put their hands up and admit that for decades they’ve been deceiving the American public, creating a smoke-screen concealing the dangers of cigarettes.

As punishment, the Justice Department has asked companies through the law courts to set up and pay for a series of confessional adverts, to be printed and broadcast when they say so and for as long as they say.

As part of the 12-year long (and counting) lawsuit against the tobacco companies, it has released a series of statements they should be required to use, such as ‘we falsely marketed low tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes to keep people smoking and sustain our profits.’

It’s an extraordinary online debate that’s been sparked by this long-raging Government vs tobacco companies bout. Many in the social media space are citing hypocrisy – the Government takes in millions of tax dollars from smokers themselves and the manufacturers, and yet wants to publicly thrash them for their alleged lies, whilst still pocketing the money, of course.

Others say smokers have known for years just how bad cigarettes are for their health, but are hooked so just don’t care. And a TV advert or magazine spread isn’t going to make them stub it out.

The question though that’s really getting everyone talking isn’t whether what either side is doing is right. It’s where will it stop? What’s next? Oil companies being forced to admit how much money they make from you driving your car?

Truth is here to stay. It’s everywhere. Consumers are truth junkies now. This sudden desire for public ‘truth’ in part created by our new digital world, is like opening Pandora’s Box. Make one industry wholly transparent, might as well be the rest.

As I always say when it comes to Cultural Movements, if you’re going to stand for something, you need to be authentic. Moreover, make sure you can’t have it thrown back in your face because you’re saying one thing and in reality doing another. It’s got to be truthful, honest and open if the backlash against these proposals is anything to go on. As a marketer, it’s very interesting to see.

Image by: eric.delcroix

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