Cigarette maker Philip Morris International recently suspended its global social media marketing campaign in response to Reuters inquiries into the company’s use of young online personalities to sell its new “heated tobacco” device, including a 21-year-old woman in Russia.
The company’s internal “marketing standards” stands against the practice of promoting tobacco products with youth-oriented celebrities or “models who are or appear to be under the age of 25.”
The company informed Reuters on Friday of their decision to launch an internal investigation into marketing posts and photographs that Reuters had sent to the company for comment earlier this week.
The posts included a paid post by social media “influencer” Alina Tapilina in Moscow who has listed her age as 21 on Instagram and can be seen plugging the tobacco product.
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Наконец-то у меня появился новый IQOS 3 и я смело могу сказать – «да!» – переменам.😂 Во-первых, новый IQOS стал меньше пахнуть, и теперь оставляет меньше запаха на одежде, волосах и руках, а ещё он заряжается на процентов 15 быстрее. Ну и я не смогла обойти стороной тот факт, что при использовании нового IQOS в воздух выделяется пар, в котором уровень вредных веществ в среднем на 90% ниже, чем в дыме. Так что, начала перемены не только с себя, но и с окружающей среды) А ты ещё не перешел на IQOS? Тогда мы идём к вам 👻❤️ #IQOSambassador @iqos_ru Не исключает риски. 18+
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“We have taken the decision to suspend all of our product-related digital influencer actions globally. Whilst the influencer in question is a legal age adult smoker, she is under 25 and our guidance called for influencers to be 25+ years of age. This was a clear breach of that guidance.” the company told the Reuters
“No laws were broken,” the company told Reuters. “However, we set high standards for ourselves and these facts do not excuse our failure to meet those standards in this instance.”
The company added: “We were deeply disappointed to discover this breach and are grateful that it was brought to our attention.”
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month decided it would allow sales of the IQOS device in the United States after a two-year review process in which Philip Morris repeatedly assured the regulator that it would warn young people away from the product.
The FDA declined to comment Friday evening on Philip Morris’s decision to suspend the marketing campaign. The agency earlier said it would “keep a close watch on … how the company is marketing its products.”
While most of the social media influencers hired by Philip Morris overseas did not list their ages on Instagram, a Reuters review of the firm’s social media marketing of IQOS in Japan, Italy, Switzerland, Russia and Romania shows that Tapilina’s online persona was typical of what the company called its social media “ambassadors” for the device – rail-thin young women who revel in the high life.
The company did not directly respond to additional questions Friday night regarding the intended audience for its digital influencer campaigns.
Many of the messages contained the hashtag #IQOSambassador, tying them into a network of social media influencers that the international tobacco giant has relied on to brand the IQOS as a safer alternative to cigarettes and a sexy fashion accessory
“I finally have the new IQOS 3, and I can confidently say yes to change … the level of harmful substances is on average about 90 per cent lower than in smoke,” Tapilina wrote in an April post. “You haven’t yet switched to IQOS?”
One Romanian IQOS marketer is 25 years old, according to a separate actress biography, but did not list her age on Instagram. Tapilina and nine other IQOS marketers did not respond to requests for comment.
Philip Morris, in its statement to Reuters, said its suspension of the social marketing campaign is “concrete proof” of its “conviction to achieve a smoke-free world through socially responsible practices.”
Matthew Myers, president of The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, had a different take upon hearing of the suspension Friday night. The advocacy group collected some of the IQOS marketing images reviewed by Reuters.
Philip Morris, he said, “is changing their behaviour only when caught red-handed.”
The company, Myers said, has historically been “the single most successful across the globe in making cigarettes fashionable to young people.”
Happy Valentines Day
Over the past year, Philip Morris has increasingly publicised its “mission” to prevent young people from using tobacco products. Last month, it issued a release calling on “all tobacco and e-cigarette companies to do their part to guard against youth nicotine use.”
“Let me be clear: We at Philip Morris International do not, and will not, market or sell our products to youth,” CEO André Calantzopoulos said during a speech in Boston earlier this month. “For Philip Morris International, age matters.”
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#IQOSThisChangesEverything #IQOSアンバサダー #IQOSJapan . ハッピーバレンタイン❤️❤️❤️ . いつも見てくれてる成人喫煙者の皆様ありがとう😉✨ . . 今回はバレンタインにピッタリのIQOSカラーをご紹介する為に【IQOS 3 MULTI✖️立花亜野芽】で特別な撮影を行いました️❣️ . . 凄腕カメラマンさんメイクさん スタイリストさん達が集結して すっっごくいい写真が完成したよ😍✨ . プロの力って本当すごい️‼️ いつもと違う立花になれました😌💞 . . 私が選んだデバイスはホワイトのIQOS 3 MULTIにブルーのキャップ💙 . 実はMULTIのキャップは初めて見たんだ🤩！ . ブルーとかめちゃくちゃ 可愛いくない？☺️ . 普段の白キャップからブルーにカスタマイズできるからさらに持ち運びが楽しくなったよ😉🔥 . . 今回ご紹介したバレンタインカラーバリエーションのIQOS 3 MULTIをバレンタインギフトとしていかがでしょうか️🥰❤️？ . . 販売場所や詳細については、IQOSのウェブサイトでチェックしてください。 . . . Photo : Masaki Sone Styling : Kaori Iseki Hair & Make-up : Makoto Saito .. ※成人喫煙者向けの本製品には、リスクがないわけではありません。
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When Philip Morris submitted marketing plans with an FDA application for IQOS in 2017, its sample advertisements featured models appearing at least a decade older and wearing modest, professional clothes.
That application, which is still pending before the FDA, seeks approval to market the IQOS as less harmful than smoking and outlines company plans to ensure it doesn’t market the device to “non-intended audiences.” The device heats up but does not burn packages of ground-up tobacco, which resemble small cigarettes, to create a nicotine-filled aerosol.
In Japan, the intended audience for IQOS marketing includes the Instagram followers of Ayame Tachibana, a 27-year-old DJ and model. In one post, she shows off a Valentine’s Day message for the IQOS device, lovingly scrawled with multicolored pens.
“Happy Valentine IQOS. Love you sooo much!” reads the Instagram post from February.
Alina Eremia, a Romanian actress and singer, holds a gold-colored IQOS in front of a Christmas tree.
“My list of resolutions contains 95% fewer moments without a smile,” says Eremia, who is 25 according to her actress biography on multiple movie and celebrity information websites.
Philip Morris says the IQOS – an acronym for “I quit ordinary smoking” – contains up to 95 per cent fewer toxic compounds than cigarettes.
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Vlad Parvulescu, a manager for Eremia, confirmed she had been hired to promote IQOS and said she had been contacted by a Romanian public relations agency.
Marketing deals between companies and social media influencers vary widely, according to industry experts. But typically a company will work through third-party public relations or advertising firms that have relationships with online personalities. Compensation typically ranges from $US20 to $US25,000 or more for each post.
Corporations have become increasingly sophisticated in how they approach their social media campaigns in the past two years, said Joe Gagliese, co-founder of Viral Nation, a marketing and talent agency that works with influencers.
He once had to explain the basic concept of an “influencer” in pitch meetings. Now, companies approach him with “tailor-made decision briefs saying, ‘this is exactly what we want.'”
Reuters reviewed dozens of social media posts featuring the IQOS device. Many included hashtags such as #IQOSAmbassador, #paidad, and #notriskfree, indicating that they are IQOS marketing posts.
US laws governing tobacco advertising – which is banned on radio and television – were drawn up long before social media and digital advertising became a dominant force in consumer marketing.
Although no current state or federal law restricts tobacco advertising on the Internet – including for e-cigarettes and devices such as IQOS – the FDA can use its authority over new devices to assert sweeping control over a company’s marketing.
Any paid influencers promoting the product also must disclose “any relationships between you and entities that create labeling for, advertise, market, and/or promote the products, on your behalf, or at your direction.”
Those rules aim to restrict youth access to tobacco marketing, the FDA said in a statement, “especially in shared digital properties such as social media sites.”