By Saim Yasin, Director of Marketing & Digital, Philip Morris Management Services (Middle East) Limited
In my role as a marketer — in an industry that requires a huge amount of accountability — creating impactful change for adult consumers and society at large is the most rewarding part. My team and I work to provide adult smokers, who would otherwise keep smoking, with better alternatives against cigarettes which we know cause harm. We do that by using ethical marketing and communications to educate adult smokers, who would otherwise continue smoking, to switch to better alternatives.
One may wonder if this marketing approach differs for heavily regulated industries. I argue that this is not entirely the case, as the four fundamental Ps of marketing — product, price, place, and promotion — remain as important, and the principles continue to guide us like many marketers, regardless of their industry. The difference lies in the fact that industries, such as FMCG, consider broader audiences, while regulated industries — like the tobacco industry — direct their marketing efforts towards selected demographics, through specific channels. However, it is true that with a risk-associated industry, there is more emphasis on ensuring that our content and the channels we use to communicate are carefully considered.
As marketers, we aim to inform consumers that our products or services can better their lives; and to demonstrate how our offerings can be beneficial rather than portraying them as mandatory or essential. Here, we prioritize transparency and ethical communication to help our consumers make well-informed decisions that align with their needs and preferences.
However, the modern consumer still has multiple pain points and questions about brands they constantly interact with. So, developing our messages to ensure they’re accurate, clear, and simple is absolutely necessary when it comes to our industry. Given the scientific and technical nature of our industry, we are constantly reminded to simplify and clarify messages for the vast demographic of adult smokers and nicotine users. This information plays a huge role in the decision-making process of the consumer. Ensuring it is factual, not misleading, and easy to understand can make all the difference in prompting a consideration to switch to a better alternative.
Ethical Practice Across Business Operations
In a regulated industry, responsible communication is imperative at every level of the organization — external and internal. In briefing sessions with our agencies and teams, we ensure that everyone has a thorough understanding of what responsible marketing entails. We set strict guidelines, in some cases stricter than local guidelines, that include disclaimers and warnings for adult consumers of our products at every point of contact. We take the time to involve all direct and indirect staff members, partners, and other internal parties, providing them with training programs that map out our positioning and the agreed approach of our external comms.
Moreover, we closely monitor the outcomes of our live campaigns through rolling trackers, which provide us feedback at multiple levels. This mechanism analyses our campaigns by asking the most crucial questions: one, is it being understood by adult consumers? Two, is it thought to be relevant by the adult consumer? Three, do adult consumers find the communications credible? If the response to one or more of these questions is a no, then we have not yet established the behavioral shift we’re hoping for. In such situations, we reassess, realign, and adapt to deliver a clearer, more effective campaign. Therefore, while the principles of marketing might be the same, the approach we take at PMI is to ensure we’re setting a benchmark in responsible marketing for ourselves and our partners. A big part of that also includes our approach that we do not market our products to youth.
Candidly speaking, we’re currently witnessing public conversations and instances that portray vaping as a ‘cool’ or a ‘relaxing’ way to de-stress. Such discussions, which young audiences get exposed to are irresponsible, rooted in misinformation, and detrimental. As a company with a smoke-free future as our end goal, we distance ourselves from the portrayal of any products as ‘trendy’.
Aside from responsible communications, we focused on expanding our youth-access prevention programs with our trade partners. We also worked on adding additional measures to ensure that all our communications were up to our ethical standards, and finally, we developed a new marketing code that governs the marketing and sales of all our products.
Looking to the future, we are leveraging technology to help prevent unwanted use among the youth. We’re looking into ‘access prevention’ protocols, that act as online mediums to verify whether one is underage, a regular smoker, or a non-smoker. This is yet to form full fruition, but we expect such technology to be utilized more and more.
In conclusion, marketing in a highly regulated industry often comes with its challenges and considerations. However, by coupling basic principles with moral and ethical obligations as well as transparency founded on science and facts, companies can be more effective in responsible marketing. As a company still humbly navigating through our journey with a motivated goal, we are also leading adult consumers who are motivated to improve their lifestyles. I encourage companies in regulated industries to also prioritize their responsible marketing efforts so that end audiences are equipped to always make better-informed choices.