Ogilvy Group

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The Ogilvy Group (UK): “is one of the largest and most influential communications groups in the UK. We have 11 specialist companies with expertise in areas as diverse as PR, design, direct, digital, healthcare and advertising”, according to its website.1
The Ogilvy Group includes: Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, Ogilvy One, Ogilvy Healthworld, Ogilvy Action, Ogilvy Primary Contact, Ogilvy Public Relations, Neo@Ogilvy, Coley Porter Bell and Redworks2 With over 100 offices and partnerships in more than 50 countries, Ogilvy can call itself a truly global network.
Ogilvy, Benson & Mather was founded in 1948 by Briton David Ogilvy.3 It later became Ogilvy & Mather.
The company is now owned by PR and advertising conglomerate WPP.

In 2017 and 2018 Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide provided PR services to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW), an ostensibly independent scientific organisation aimed at ‘accelerating the end of smoking’ which is solely funded by Philip Morris International:45 Initially worth US$ 542,747,4 the contract quickly grew to more than $5 million in 2018.5 For more info visit the FSFW Grantees page.

Links with the Tobacco Industry Through the Years

http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/pyh29d00 Letter to Bowman Gray from W.A. Sugg regarding the June 1956 AMA Seminar

Ogilvy & Mather has well documented history of working with the tobacco industry. Tobacco legacy documents, made public as a result of litigation in the US in the 1990s, show that the agency has worked on advertising and public relations campaigns for the tobacco industry since the 1950s.6
Recently, the company has done some anti-smoking campaigns as well, both in the UK and abroad. Since 2017 it has had a multimillion dollar contract with the Philip Morris-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (see below).


During the 1950s Ogilvy, Benson & Mather was the advertising agency working with Philip Morris to launch Spud cigarettes with a filter. Filter tip cigarettes were introduced to reassure smokers that the industry was taking action following the emergence of research evidence linking smoking and lung cancer in 1951. In reality filters allowed smokers to inhale toxic smoke more deeply into the lungs.7
It was also at this time that menthol cigarettes were introduced – once again with reduced risk connotations using words such as ‘fresh’ to describe their taste.


Ogilvy, Benson & Mather Do Not Accept Cigarette Accounts

In 1964 it was widely reported in the US press that Ogilvy, Mather & Benson no longer accepted cigarette accounts.8910
David Ogilvy called cigarette commercials “disgraceful…villainy.”11


Following David Ogilvy’s retirement in 1973, Ogilvy and Mather accepted tobacco industry accounts again.12
In 1977 Ogilvy & Mather ran an advertising campaign for RJ Reynolds’ new low tar cigarette called Real.131415

Full page ad for ‘’Real’’ cigarettes, Star News, 5 July 1977


In the 1980s, Ogilvy and Mather provided creative services to a number of tobacco companies and cigarette brands, including (but not limited to):

* Brown & Williamson’s Kool cigarette brand16

* RJ Reynolds-MacDonald’s Vantage Cigarette brand17

* British American Tobacco’s Kent cigarette brand18

* Philip Morris19

Public Affairs for a Front Group: the Tobacco Institute

In 1987 Ogilvy & Mather entered into an agreement with the front group the Tobacco Institute – set up by the tobacco industry – to provide (according to the original communication):

public affairs consulting services on the excise tax, public smoking and coalition building issues, as well as public relations support to The Tobacco Industry Labor Management Committee. These services shall include, but not be limited to, assistance in strategy development and implementation, writing assignments as appropriate. And initiating and maintaining contact with targeted coalition groups.

The Institute will pay Ogilvy a retainer of $45,000 a month to perform the services described above. Any assignments outside the scope of this contract will be negotiated separately.”20

Creating Doubt : Sick Building Syndrome

http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/egk91f00/pdf ETS Advertising Recommendations: The Business Reader Campaign February 1987

Tobacco smoke is made up of over 7000 chemicals, 69 of which are known causes of cancer.21
It is known that second-hand smoke, namely the smoke that comes from the burning tip of a cigarette (side-stream smoke) and the smoke exhaled by the smoker (main-stream smoke) is harmful. In adults, amongst other illnesses, it can cause lung cancer, heart disease, acute coronary events (such as stroke & heart attack), bronchitis and emphysema.22
In the 1980s, research studies revealing a link between second-hand smoke exposure (SHS; also known as Environmental Tobacco Smoke or ETS) were rapidly emerging.232425
In 1987, in addition to their public relations role, Ogilvy and Mather were commissioned by the Tobacco Institute to address the increasing public concern regarding environmental tobacco smoke.26
O&M conceived and executed a well-constructed and targeted campaign to divert attention away from tobacco smoke in the work place and onto the actual building in which people worked by publicising a phenomenon known as ‘Sick Building Syndrome’. In a document pitching their proposed advertising strategy, O&M explained that their objective was “to educate identified publics on the true nature of the indoor air quality problem and thereby put ETS in its proper context.” In other words to change the focus and divert the issue.27


British American Tobacco (BAT) handed a significant chunk of its global advertising business to Ogilvy & Mather in 1999, following the announcement of a ban on poster and press advertising in the UK. As a result of a merger with Rothmans, O&M Worldwide took over three global brands; Rothmans, Peter Stuyvesant and Winfield. Prior to the merger, O&M handled just one significant BAT brand, a popular South American and Caribbean brand called Free.28
Marketing Magazine at the time predicted:

Much of O&M’s work will inevitably focus on building brand awareness in markets outside Europe, where restrictions on tobacco advertising are less stringent. Although most European countries will not follow the UK’s lead in implementing a total ban on tobacco marketing this year, they are obliged to do so by 2001. A further ban on tobacco sports sponsorship, to be introduced in Europe by 2003, will also restrict marketing opportunities in Europe. 29


Anti Smoking Campaigns: Conflict of Interest?

Anti Smoking Campaign by Ogilvy UK, 2007: tanker shaped as cigarette – the back covered with hazardous material warning labels

A conflict of interest issue reported in the Guardian national newspaper revealed that in 2003 BAT was still one of the Ogilvy Group UK’s clients.30 The group withdrew an anti-smoking advert created for Action for Smoking and Health (ASH) which was titled “Passive Smoking Kills” because CEO Mike Walsh feared the campaign would upset their clients BAT. ASH did not approach Ogilvy & Mather to create this add, rather ASH was approached by Ogilvy & Mather after two junior creatives won a competition to devise a campaign for a charity of their choosing. The ad, created to warn the public about the dangers of passive smoking, depicted a bullet firing out of the end of a lit cigarette with the tagline, “Passive smoking kills.”
Despite this conflict, four years later in 2007, Ogilvy was awarded a Cannes Lions Direct Gold price for their anti-smoking campaign titled the “Smoke is Poison” campaign. As part of this campaign, a gas tanker in the form of a cigarette driving around the UK. The back of the tanker was covered with hazardous material warning labels (see picture).31
(The Cannes Lion jury was chaired by Rory Sutherland , Vice Chairman, Ogilvy Group UK, who would be one of the founding members of the The Common Sense Alliance in 2012, a BAT-supported group campaigning against Plain Packaging – see below).

Ogilvy in Anti Smoking Campaigns

Smoking Kid – The Ogilvy Singapore ‘I QUIT campaign, 2011


Ogilvy & Mather Singapore developed the “Live It Up Without Lighting Up” for the Health Promotion Board’s youth-targeted smoking control campaign in 2010, for the second year running. The campaign encourages youth in “fresh and cheerful settings” to lead a tobacco-free life by trumping up the benefits to one’s appearance, fitness, spending power and the environment.
An integrated campaign that “spanned above-the-line, out-of-home, online, radio and on-ground activities” in the run up to , World No Tobacco Day celebrations, included the “first-of-its-kind moving flash mob to be organised in Singapore”. Creative Director Troy Lim explained:

A smoke-free world is one where everyone is more beautiful, fitter and wealthier in a greener environment. We want youths to aspire to take a stand against tobacco and inspire those around them to do so as well to create this wonderful world.” 32

In 2011, the Health Promotion Board and the Ogilvy Singapore team engaged in an exercise “getting under the skin of the target audiences”. Marketing research told them that “Smokers in Singapore live in an environment of isolation and victimization. The more negative the communication, the more they smoke as a sign of defiance against this social isolation. Since the decision to quit, like the decision to smoke, is deeply internal and emotional”, the only thing advertising can is to “help quitters persist through the tough quit journey (…) through a system of encouragement and support”. Commented Troy Lim, Creative Director, Ogilvy & Mather Advertising Singapore:

We made Quitters – real people who pledged to stay smoke-free – the stars of the campaign. They served as inspiration and encouragement for other smokers to follow, turning ‘I Quit’ into a movement.

The creative team created a symbol (formed by the index and third finger closed together), a twist on how a smoker holds a cigarette to form a pledge gesture. This symbol identifies quitters as a special group of people who deserve to be celebrated and also creates a unifying gesture to rally quitters and other members of the community together (see picture).33

The I Quit Club Facebook page shows that two years on the campaign is still running.

Smoking Kid – Ogilvy uses children to expose adults hypocracy, Thailand, 2012.


An advert Ogilvy Asia created for the Thai Health Promotion Foundation in 2012 was called “brilliant in its simplicity” by the Financial Times. The crux is in the use of “that perfect tool of manipulation: children” to deliver the message to smokers who – “as a rule – don’t like to be lectured”. The short films include clips where “cherub-faced kids walk up to smokers on the streets of Thailand holding cigarettes in their tiny fingers and asking for a light.”34 The smokers are shocked and they begin to list reasons why the kids should not smoke. The kids then cleverly ask ‘So why are you smoking?’, hand the smoker a piece of paper and walk away. The piece of paper reads, ‘You worry about me, but why not about yourself?’ Smoking Kid has gone viral and is up for several prizes.


Each year Ogilvy & Mather offices around the world produce campaigns that address all kind of pressing challenges – from global warming to domestic violence to wildlife conservation to poverty reduction. One of the price-winning cases in 2012 ending up in the annual Sustainability Report of Ogilvy parent company WPP was a chanting cigarette lighter for the Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA) in India.

Ogilvy Still Working for BAT and other tobacco companies

Meanwhile, Ogilvy & Mather and indeed the UK branch of the company still have a relationship with the tobacco industry in 2013 (at the time of writing). BAT is not listed as a client on Ogilvy’s UK website, but that is a matter of client confidentiality and the corporate culture of discretion.35
Nevertheless, David Fox is listed as The Ogilvy Group UK’s Worldwide Managing Director for BAT.36 Fox’s LinkedIn profile says that he has held the role of “Leading Ogilvy Groups third largest worldwide client BAT” since April 2009.37
The role of global brand director to oversee the BAT account was created in 2004 by the marketing services network 141 group, (merging with Ogilvy at the time, to be rebranded as OgilvyAction in 2007). At the occasion, Richard Church, chairman of 141 Europe, said:

BAT is a truly global account, which requires integrated strategy and implementation across all markets within the considerable constraints of widely varying legislation. Since 141 first started working with BAT we have made a tangible difference to its marketing thanks to our unique approach to understanding consumer behaviour and the impact of communication at key decision moments.38

With the merger, BAT accounts mostly in Asia and the Pacific handled by 141 were integrated with Ogilvy & Mather’s existing global client service on BAT. In 2003, 141’s main BAT briefs include State Express 555, Craven, BAT’s duty-free business and numerous local brands.39
In 2010, when Steve Harding was appointed global CEO of OgilvyAction, BAT was still mentioned as its main client. More recently, Heavylight, an interface design company, developed a Flash based sales presentation for BAT, based on Ogilvy Action’s concept and artwork. This was shown on a 46inch transparent touchscreen at an exhibition in Cannes in October 2012.40
In 2010, Ogilvy Public Relations Prague was shortlisted for the European Excellence Award for a campaign the agency developed in the Czech Republic for British American Tobacco CZ called “Unique People – Unique Brands”.41

Other Ogilvy & Mather Tobacco Clients Worldwide

A few examples of Ogilvy & Mather offices elsewhere in the world that have BAT or other tobacco companies listed as a client (May 2013):

*MemacOgilvy, office in the Middle East. BAT is the single largest client within Ogilvy Africa and Middle East;

*Ogilvy South Africa as well as Kenya, Ghana and Namibia have BAT as client – according to the 2005 Ogilvy African partners list42

*Ogilvy Japan, lists BAT as one of its major clients;

*Ogilvy Poland lists Rothmans as a client;

*Ogilvy & Mather Indonesia acquired the account for Gudang Garam’ s Surya Slims in 2008. Marketed as a low tar, mild brand, Surya Slims were launched amid Government plans to limit cigarette production to 240 billion sticks by 2010. Indonesia is the world’s fifth largest tobacco market.

* Malaysia BAT is one of Ogivy’s large clients.

The Common Sense Alliance

In 2012, the Vice Chairman of The Ogilvy Group UK, Rory Sutherland, is listed as a founding member of The Common Sense Alliance, an anti-regulation group supported by BAT. On the Alliance’s webpage, Sutherland is described as ‘Former President of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’ and as having worked in marketing and advertising since 1988. His biography does not mention that he is the Vice Chairman of The Ogilvy Group.
Although The Common Sense Alliance says that it is not a political group, two members of the organisation, Roy Ramm and Peter Sheridan have presented themselves as expert witnesses on smuggling to the Department for Health in their capacity as former police chiefs – without disclosing their links to the Alliance or BAT.43

TobaccoTactics Resources

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