Tobacco's Cloudy Image on The Silver Screen
There is no greater promotional value - short of a direct endorsement - than having a major motion picture star use a product in a big budget film. - Robert H. Kovoloff, President, Associated Film Promotions.
A NEW James Bond movie, ``Licence to Kill,'' has just been released in the United States. Featured prominently in the film - in one instance clearly centered in the frame as a bomb that is about to explode - ia a package of Lark cigarettes, manufactured and marketed in Japan but owned jointly by Philip Morris and The Liggett Group, two of the six American cigarette manufacturers. The producers have added a Surgeon General's warning to the end of the film but most of the audience has gone home by the time it rolls by.
For the privilege of placing their product in the movie, to appear in clear association with the James Bond character, who lights up twice during the film and whose glamourous lover according to the script has gone back to smoking after five years, Philip Morris and The Liggett Group contributed to the production and promotional costs of ``Licence to Kill'' with a precedent-setting sum of $350,000.
Philip Morris and Liggett are also ``tying-in'' the promotion of ``Licence to Kill'' with the promotion of Lark cigarettes. Although Larks are not sold in this country, and the back-end promotion will be handled by a Japanese advertising agency, it cannot have escaped the companies' notice that ``License to Kill'' will ultimately conclude its economic journey on American and many other nations' television, as well as on video-cassettes around the world.
The continuing and pervasive presence of cigarettes and smoking in clear association with movie heroes and heroines insures that the image of the smoker will not atrophy. It is a deliberate corporate strategy. And because the advertising is embedded neatly in the movie without any statement except in small credits at the end of the film, the audience will remain unaware that it has been targeted by an ad agency. Whether such embedded cigarette advertising in motion pictures, many of which are ultimately screened on television which has its own set of regulations, is a violation of the 1970 broadcast ban and the Cigarette Advertising and Labeling act will be determined by the courts.
``This can be one of the most insidious forms of advertising because people aren't informed that it is advertising,'' explains Charles Mitchell, staff attorney for Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group that recently filed a petition concerning product placement in motion pictures that appear on television with the Federal Communications Commission.``When a cigarette or alcoholic beverage company pays or gives some other kind of consideration to people making the film, that film is probably not going to show the terrible harm that cigarettes and alcohol can do to people.''
The deal between Liggett, Philip Morris, and the producers of ``Licence to Kill,'' came to light in January when Congressman Tom Luken (D) of Ohio, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Transportation and Hazardous Materials, wrote to cigarette manufacturers requesting disclosure of their Hollywood tie-ins.
Philip Morris acknowledged its involvement with the new James Bond film and also eventually admitted paying $42,500 to have Marlboro cigarettes appear in ``Superman II.'' In that film heroine Lois Lane smokes Marlboro cigarettes and, in the center of the movie, a battle between Superman and his evil compatriots takes place in a forest of Marlboro billboards and trucks. As Philip Morris has admitted, none of this happened by accident.
``We've also heard allegations that not only do [cigarette manufacturers] do specific placement in the sense of a particular brand,'' says an aide to Congressman Luken, ``they also pay to get general smoking scenes, particularly on television programs.''
Although in many films cigarette smoking could be considered an integral part of character development or period ambience, it is equally true that in many instances cigarette smoking seems inappropriate, extraneous, or excessive. Sometimes, in fact, a brand name is not even visible in the film. What is glaringly apparent, however, is the extent to which smoking in general is evident.
A watchdog group - Stop Teenage Addiction to Tobacco (STAT) - has been monitoring cigarette placement in movies for several years. A recent newsletter states: ``We believe that when movie producers accept tobacco company money, part of the deal is that they include scenes in which smoking appears in a positive light. In almost every movie in which embedded cigarette advertising appears, one or more of the leading characters smoke in a highly glamorized fashion.'' Such glamorization appeals particularly to teenagers who comprise more than 40 percent of moviegoers. In a health conscious America, the greatest threat to cigarette manufacturers is loss of new smokers through attrition.
STAT has compiled a list of movies containing cigarette product placement as well as a glamorized smoking ambience. The list is formidable and diverse. It includes such films as ``Who Framed Roger Rabbit, ``Crimes of the Heart,'' ``Risky Business,'' ``Crocodile Dundee,'' ``Desperately Seeking Susan,'' and ``Batteries Not Included.'' In ``Batteries Not Included,'' for example, not only is there a Salem billboard prominently displayed, but the two main characters both smoke. ``In one of the cutest scenes,'' states the STAT newsletter, ``an adorable little spaceship flicks a built-in cigarette lighter to fire-up the elderly gentleman's cigar.''
Despite a preponderance of on-screen evidence to the contrary, only one of the five other cigarette manufacturers wrote back to Congressman Luken affirming past payments to film production companies. In his letter to Attorney General Richard Thornburgh requesting an investigation of possible criminal violation of the Federal Cigarette Advertising and Labeling Act, Luken cites the delayed response he received from Philip Morris, and a letter from the Liggett Group which confirmed that in 1983 it had paid $30,000 to have its Eve cigarette appear in ``Supergirl.''
But none of the other companies, as yet, have owned up.
Facing investigation from Luken's committee, the Federal Communications Commission, and the US Attorney General, Hollywood producers, as well as the cigarette manufacturers, have closed ranks against prying reporters sniffing a story as big as the payola scandals of the early 1960s. When questioned about their dealings with the tobacco industry, two prominent product placement companies, Marvin Cohen & Associates and Wills & Evans Sponsorship Group, claimed that they also ``don't do it.''
``Quite frankly, any tobacco placement in films in the past few years have been very negligible,'' says Marvin Cohen, whose company is hired by the studios rather than the corporate clients. ``It's rare that any tobacco is actually I.D'd [identified] on the screen. (A) It's a very small package, and (B) normally it occurs in a darkened room and the actor or actress' hand encompasses the package itself.''
``Do you deal with the tobacco companies?'' a reporter asked Norm Marshall who is affiliated with the Wills & Evans Sponsorship Group. ``No. Let me qualify that. One of our clients is Miller which is owned by Philip Morris. We do not deal with Philip Morris directly. I can tell you that there really aren't any [product placement companies] that do.''
If the product placement companies aren't doing it and only two of the six cigarette manufacturers say they are doing it, what gives? Allegations abound. It has been suggested that in view of all the money ``out there,'' producers are instructing writers to include smoking characters. Or that producers are encouraging directors to ask the characters to smoke. Or that set decorators and property masters, the people who deal with the day-to-day, hands-on business of getting props on the set and into the hands of unwitting actors, are cutting their own deals with cigarette manufacturers. Absolutely anything is possible in the city of dreams where blockbuster film production is a very expensive proposition.
Nonetheless, $350,000 is a goodly sum to add to the production and promotion budget of a movie by any standards, even those of the product placement companies who have been in the business for a long time and state that $30,000-$50,000 is the usual range paid. The high price paid for the Lark placement and back-end promotion in ``Licence to Kill'' is indicative of the mood of the cigarette manufacturers as they seek new and imaginative means of capturing the next generation of would-be smokers. It is this teen market which may further elude them if a print media ad ban is accomplished within the next few years. Product placement in motion pictures is good insurance against such an eventuality.