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Organizational Change
Philip Morris Is Giving Up Cigarettes — and Asking UK Consumers to Do the Same

A notorious company with a controversial product is attempting to pivot its business model to be more socially responsible — and marketing directly to consumers during this transition.

Although it may seem counterintuitive for a company to discourage consumers from buying its products, we have seen this strategy work in brands’ favor in the past — Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign resulted in an overwhelming positive response from consumers who took extra time to learn about the brand’s mission before making a purchase. Now, one company with a notoriously controversial product is attempting to pivot its business model to be more socially responsible — and marketing directly to consumers during this transition.

As part of its New Year’s resolution, tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI) has launched an aggressive anti-smoking campaign against its own product — urging consumers to give up cigarettes as the company itself commits to doing the same, with a bold ambition to “stop selling cigarettes in the UK.” The company explains that this untraditional call to action is necessary for its future, with CEO André Calantzopoulos stating, “We have a duty to our business that we ensure we have a viable business going forward, so we’re investing in alternatives so we provide a future for them, as well.”

The company is hoping consumers will join it in this pivot. To get the word out, PMI ran an ad in several UK newspapers sharing the brand’s new commitment and encouraging readers to join the smoke-free movement. Additionally, to support smokers during the challenging task of quitting, the company created a ‘Smoke Free Future’ website and campaign, which provides smokers with information on quitting and cigarette alternatives. The brand is also seeking approval from the government to provide information about quitting and cigarette alternatives directly on its cigarette packaging — placing information front and center in the hopes of creating behavior change. As the company hopes for a higher demand of smoke-free alternatives, it has begun to research and expand the availability of new alternative products in the UK. This shift has long been in the works, with PMI spending more than £2.5 billion on research and development over the past decade to develop smoke-free alternatives.

Although critics may focus on the fact that PMI has no set date for total removal of cigarettes from its product line, the company’s own CEO explains they did not “make this type of statement lightly.” The company hopes that by sharing its own commitment to quitting, their consumers will be encouraged to do the same, creating less demand of cigarettes and in turn, more demand for less harmful alternatives.

As the company’s manifesto explains, “Society expects us to act responsibly. And we are doing just that by designing a smoke-free future.” Pundits will certainly be tracking this potentially transformational moment for the brand — and if it succeeds in becoming smoke-free along with its consumers.

This post first appeared on the Cone Communications blog on January 8, 2018.