Ads are powerful; differentiation is important

19 Mar

This morning’s Washington Post is full of interesting media/marketing news.  First is the announcementthat the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has enacted tough new rules on cigarette/tobacco advertising as part of the agency’s new authority to regulate the industry.

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According the Post, tobacco companies will be banned from sponsoring sports and entertainment events and from offering free samples, among other restrictions. The FDA also tried to limit advertising to text only (banning color and graphics) but a judge has ruled in favor of the tobacco companies, which the FDA is appealing.

Tobacco advertising and the federal response to it  has always been fascinating.  Tobacco is a  legal product, sold and taxed in stores like any other product, but when used as directed, causes wide-ranging health problems (cancer, heart disease) not only to smokers but those exposed to smoke. The Feds have tried to curb the appeal of smoking by restricting advertising and putting warnings on cigarette packs.  This has always raised the question of first amendment rights–after all, the companies that manufacture cigarettes are trying to sell a legal product. But the government is concerned that increased sales of tobacco mean increased health risks.

The point here is that advertising and marketing efforts, when done right, are powerful. They can steer consumer behavior. Personally, I abhor smoking and I applaud the FDA for stepping up regulation of tobacco marketing. To me,  marketing tobacco is marketing death, yet the issue of free speech remains. The real issue may well be why we allow companies continue to produce and market a product that kills.

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Another piece of news that is fascinating is that Christiane Amanpour, the famed CNN war reporter, will move over to ABC, to host This Week. If ever there was a least likely candidate for this position it was Amanpour, who is more comfortable confronting dictators and dodging bullets in war-torn areas.  I think David Brinkley would turn over in his grave! Will the round table with George Will, Cokie Roberts and the rest continue? I doubt it. And I doubt that with Amanpour at the helm, This Week will be able to compete with Meet the Press on domestic political coverage. But that seems to be the point–hiring Amanpour is meant to change This Week into a program with a more international focus.  And differentiate it will, but will that also result in increased viewership? That is the question.


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