Is social media the final frontier for cigarettes?
Following this week’s High Court decision on plain packaging, there has been speculation that tobacco companies will intensify their efforts online in a bid to promote their brands and the activity of smoking itself now they have been excluded from traditional marketing channels. This landmark decision may have expedited attempts by cigarette manufacturers to actively pursue social media platforms in a last bid attempt to position their brands, retain market share and attract new customers.
All other regulatory efforts by health departments and governments have been met with a dogged determination to find loopholes and creative ‘work-arounds’ so it would come as no surprise if social media is where big tobacco make their ‘last stand’.
The nature of social media must hold significant appeal to cigarette companies. The heartland of teenagers and young people, it’s relatively relaxed regulation and international reach provides ample scope for the covert stealth marketing practices for which tobacco is renowned. Videos on YouTube offer opportunities for product placement, images can be crafted and shared to appeal to target segments and reviews, comments and forums can keep brands top of mind. Even better, user generated content (UGC), offers both anonymity and deniability.
A quick review of cigarette brands across the most popular social media platforms produces a plethora of content. You can repin beautifully styled images of smokers and their Marlboro pack on Pinterest, ‘like’ any one of the multiple Facebook fan pages for Dunhill Red or watch Lucky Strike commercials on YouTube.
With this much compelling content available online, there is no need for Mad Men!
There is however a very strong argument for anti-smoking bodies to start getting social. These platforms can be just as powerful and pervasive for anti-smoking messages and behaviour change social marketing campaigns. Unfortunately though it appears that they are lagging behind – the homepage for Australia’s national Quit campaign (QuitNow) for example does not even have any social media links – so immediate action is required.
Australia could look to Thailand as an example – they have led the way in creating compelling content that has gone viral. The ‘Smoking Kid’ video from the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, had over 800,000 views in its first week on YouTube and the Foundation experienced a 40 per cent increase in the number of calls asking for help to quit smoking.
Ultimately however, it may be that social media self regulates. As the tide continues to turn against smokers and tobacco companies in developing companies we should eventually see social norms reflected back into these platforms and a natural attrition of pro-smoking content.
What do you think?
Until next time..