P.T. Barnum is often credited for the line, “There’s no such thing as bad press.” Whether he actually said those words are up for debate, but given his penchant for grabbing media attention wherever and however he could, it’s a reasonable assumption this quote was from him.
But, as we’ve dived deeper and deeper into the 21st century and culture has come to accept an ‘anything goes’ mentality toward life, social media, politics, and just about every type of decorum, is it okay for companies to take on the same idea to get the ‘word’ out about its product, brand, or service?
Political Power by ‘Any Means Necessary’
Before we shove our focus into the mat of business marketing, let’s take a closer look at politics. Whether you live in Europe, Asia, the Mideast, Africa, or even South or North America, you’re probably aware of just how vile politics can be (especially closing in on an election). Well, politicians are great examples of hypocrisy and win-at-all-costs mentalities.
When I was scraping my way through college (I won’t tell you the year I graduated as that would unfairly date me … but I will admit it was close to the time dinosaurs still roamed the earth), I took a job for a major political party’s local representative. Basically, the job was to call constituents and seek out their desire to answer a survey.
Harmless, right? Well, once I began asking the questions on the survey, things became uncomfortable. One of the questions I remember reading off to an elderly woman who agreed to take part was, “If you found out that (political opponent) had been accused of child molestation, would your opinion of him be different?”
There was no evidence of such a thing. There had never been an accusation of the sort (I did go home and research to be certain). The question was designed to plant a notion in the mind of a tepid supporter or undecided voter.
It was deceptive marketing.
I honestly don’t recall if the person for whom I made calls (I lasted one more day at that job when I understood what was really going on), but I learned a valuable lesson.
You don’t need to be honest to win.
Former U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D, Nevada) notoriously said following President Obama’s reelection in 2012 (after he had accused presidential candidate Mitt Romney of not paying taxes for 10 years), “They can call it whatever they want. Romney didn’t win, did he?”
It was the final crescendo of political disdain and pollution: lie, cheat, steal … do whatever necessary to win because power is all that matters.
What Has Business Learned from This?
Make no mistake: there are a separate set of rules for politicians and businesses. If a CEO of a major company lied to its customers, he or she would be fired. Plain and simple.
But that’s not what we’re here to discuss.
We’re gathered here to talk about business strategies and tactics: the kind that are defined loosely as ‘marketing.’
So, let me ask you a simple question first: is it possible for a company to go too far promoting its business? Is it possible for a company to wrap itself too deep into hypocrisy that it’s worse off as a result?
Recently, Philip Morris -the maker of Marlboro cigarettes (along with a wide range of tobacco brands)- began an ad campaign in the U.K. for ‘anti-smoking.’ Kind of strange, wouldn’t you say, that a company decides to invest in heavy marketing against its primary product?
Numerous media outlets and health organizations slammed the tobacco giant for blatant hypocrisy. The company, though, has maintained that its ultimate goal is to shift away from cigarettes, so this marketing effort is in line with its stated long-range goals.
Do you believe them?
Remember what Harry Reid said: “They can call it whatever they want.” Now we can paraphrase his next line: (instead of ‘Romney didn’t win, did he?’ Philip Morris could say): “We increased attention for our products, didn’t we?”
And they have. Check out the free media attention the company is receiving right now:
The Conversation UK: Philip Morris anti-smoking ads slammed for hypocrisy -and it’s easy to see why
Notice a pattern? Sure you do. Philip Morris is the talk of marketing topics in these media articles. They’re garnering a massive amount of free publicity, and in a country that has banned ads marketing tobacco products (the United Kingdom), how powerful has the message become?
Yes, Philip Morris is marketing other products, including alternative tobacco delivery systems, such as Iqos, which is a warming system the company released in 2016, and vapors (also commonly referred to as ‘e-cigs’). The bulk of their annual revenue still comes from cigarettes (87%, BBC).
That means this marketing strategy was either blatant hypocricy or downright brilliant.
“There’s no such thing as bad press.".
Is that true? Or can a company simply go too far and pay a hefty price for it? What are your thoughts? Let us know.