The tobacco industry is one of the first to post images with the goal of converting sales. The Marlboro Man is one of the more infamous images. While big tobacco brands mainly market to men, they also market to women and teens. Once public health officials begin to understand the harm tobacco can cause to the body they started pushing for ways to prevent tobacco brands from advertising their tobacco-related products.
In 1970, Congress passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, banning the advertising of cigarettes on television and radio. In 1979, the Surgeon General published the most comprehensive information on smoking, confirming its many detrimental effects. Since then big tobacco brands have been fighting an uphill battle to market their products utilizing the same methods as other companies.
Preventing The Sale Of Tobacco
The many organizations in place to stop big tobacco brands from marketing their tobacco products have so far experienced a great deal of success. These organizations focus on educating people on the dangers of tobacco and take legislative action often to prevent the selling of tobacco. Local, state, and federal government regulations all play a role when it comes to how tobacco products can be advertised.
For example, in 2020, New York made a number of decisions that will directly affect the sales of retail tobacco. Two of the more influential include no longer selling tobacco products in pharmacies and no longer accepting coupons for tobacco, e-cigarette, and vape products. California, also in 2020, was the second state to pass a law prohibiting the sale of most flavored tobacco products. Massachusetts was the first to do so.
Promoting tobacco on the Internet remains to be regulated. Big tobacco figured the old rules no longer applied so they began to use top social media platforms to advertise their products, like Facebook and Instagram. This accounts for the increase in tobacco ads produced over recent years.
A number of tobacco brands recognize the fact that teens and young adults spend a lot of time on the Internet. They responded by incorporating teen-friendly games and activities for young adults to encourage website engagement.
Big tobacco brands are mainly looking to engage with the younger generation as they understand the importance of brand loyalty.
The many and growing restrictions on marketing tobacco on social media platforms are not stopping big tobacco companies. Instead, they are figuring out ways to get around these restrictions in order to promote their tobacco products to today’s youth. Questions include whether they can be stopped and who is responsible for preventing social media influencers from promoting tobacco products.
Big Tobacco Wants Influencers
The tobacco industry is currently fighting hard to stake its marketing position on the Internet. The industry wants to participate in the social media influencer movement currently taking place to increase sales. It understands the many benefits that come with choosing a professional influencer, with one of the more beneficial getting access to a much larger audience.
Many tobacco brands choose to connect with one or more social media influencers to market their tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. The fact that these brands experienced the success they were looking for only encouraged them to continue using social media influencers to promote their products on their social media pages.
Public health organizations realized what the tobacco industry was doing. They knew big tobacco was trying to figure out how to circumvent the existing laws preventing their ability to advertise, especially to the younger generation. As a response, they requested top social media platforms put a stop to these types of promotions. They were ignored.
Seven months later, and only after ongoing complaints by tobacco prevention organizations, did the social media platforms update their policy to include a no tobacco marketing policy. The fact that big tobacco has so far skirted around advertising rules creates serious doubts as to how tobacco brands will be monitored.
Tobacco brands are training young influencers. They tell them what cigarette brands to promote, the best time to promote the brands, and how to take the most natural-looking photos. Influencers must make sure the health warnings on cigarette packs are not visible in the photos.
Some brands decided to host contests with winners receiving cigarette brand sponsorships. The goal – to get participants to share tobacco information on their social media accounts. The number of tobacco-related hashtags currently circulating is close to 125, which have now been viewed more than 25 billion times.
Big tobacco is sure to continue advertising on one or more social media platforms using professional influencers until they are prevented from doing so. The positive results tobacco brands are experiencing by posting deceptive social media advertisements encourage them to continue the tactics that lure in the younger generation.
One example of a successful tobacco marketing campaign involves the world’s largest publicly traded tobacco company, British American Tobacco. The company is the mastermind behind multiple high-profile influencer marketing campaigns for two of its cigarette brands. Its goal is to use influencers in staged photos that make smoking cigarettes look cool.
Social Media Tobacco Campaigns
Another example includes Phillip Morris International, manufacturer of the world’s leading Marlboro cigarette brand. The company has initiated influencer campaigns all over the world. One of their top campaigns has already been viewed more than 48 million times. The company is one that focuses on choosing the youngest influencers to promote their tobacco products.
Japan Tobacco International has also launched a number of social media campaigns using influencers, and in multiple countries. Part of their campaign included creating a music festival to promote their tobacco products. Winston cigarettes had no problem advertising online in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Jordan.
Studies show that the majority of tobacco brands who create a social media marketing campaign will target influencers in lower-income countries. Tobacco opponents claim it is so the companies depend on getting young people hooked to ensure future profits. Tobacco brands state the demand for tobacco products is higher in lower-income countries. Big tobacco states they follow all local regulations within any country they choose to do business in.
Big Tobacco Influencers
Social media influencers who market tobacco products are abusing the policies of the platform. Even though influencers are prevented from directly promoting the sale of tobacco products using sponsored posts and paid ads, there are ways to get around these policies. Corporate messaging campaigns, influencer posts, and unpaid posts are not included, calling for stricter policies.
For example, TikTok doesn’t allow the promotion of tobacco on its platform. Even so, multiple videos show influencers promoting nicotine patches. While it would seem this is a stop-smoking message, brands are actually looking for new nicotine users making this a deceptive marketing method. These types of posts are intended to appear authentic yet are actually created to promote tobacco use.
Tobacco influencers may stay under the radar by performing deceptive practices, but not for long. They often leave out certain hashtags to prevent them from being caught by official platform systems. They also use subtle hashtags that fly under the radar. Tobacco influencers frequently include tobacco products in a subtle way when posting images, making it difficult to differentiate tobacco posts from everyday posts.
Big tobacco knows what it needs to do to stay ahead of the marketing curve. Tobacco brands understand the importance of taking decisive action if they want to continue to exist in today’s highly competitive world of advertising. The fact that many tobacco influencers are connecting with tobacco brands demands a focus on properly educating social media influencers.