Ogilvy Group

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Ogilvy is part of the PR and advertising conglomerate WPP. According to its website it offers “advertising, public relations, relationship design, consulting, and health capabilities” and has 120 offices in around 90 countries.1

Its subsidiaries and affiliated companies include: Ogilvy Public Relations, Ogilvy Health, Ogilvy Social.Lab, Designworks, Lacek, The&Partnership, and Wilson Hartnell.2


Ogilvy, Benson & Mather was founded in 1948 by the British businessman David Ogilvy. It later became Ogilvy & Mather.13

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.4

The company has also run anti-smoking campaigns, in the UK and elsewhere (see below for details).

Since 2017 Ogilvy has had a multimillion dollar contract with the Philip Morris International-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (see below).

Promotion of tobacco company newer products

Ogilvy companies have promoted tobacco companies’ newer nicotine and tobacco products, namely PMI’s heated tobacco product IQOS,56 and the British American Tobacco (BAT) e-cigarette Vuse,789 including through the use of artists and social media influencers.

Ogilvy UK lists Formula 1 as a client.10 See also Motorsport Sponsorship for information on tobacco company links to the sport.

Work with Foundation for A Smoke-Free World and its Grantees

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide has provided PR services to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW), which is solely funded by Philip Morris International.1112 Initially worth US$542,747,11 the value of the contract increased to more than US$5 million in 2018.1213

In June 2019 public relations industry publication PR Week reported that it “understands that Ogilvy no longer works for the Foundation, partly to avoid any conflict with its health clients.”13

However, Ogilvy Consulting’s Behavioural Science Practice worked with FSFW grantee the UK Centre for Health Research Education (CHRE), a private company, on research conducted in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic. This work was published as a pre-print in May 2021, co-authored by an Ogilvy employee..14 It was also published on CHRE’s website in June 2021.1516] See the CHRE page for more details.

Links with the Tobacco Industry Through the Years


An image of a letter

Image 1: Letter to Bowman Gray from W.A. Sugg regarding the June 1956 AMA Seminar (Source: Truth Tobacco Industry Documents).4

During the 1950s Ogilvy, Benson & Mather worked with Philip Morris to launch Spud cigarettes with a filter (see image 1).417 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.18

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.19


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.202122

David Ogilvy called cigarette commercials “disgraceful…villainy.”23


An image of an advertisement showing packs of cigarettes with mint leaves on the outside of the packets

Image 2: Full page advertisement for Real cigarettes, Star News, 5 July 1977

Following David Ogilvy’s retirement in 1973, Ogilvy and Mather accepted tobacco industry accounts again.24

In 1977 Ogilvy & Mather ran an advertising campaign for RJ Reynolds’ new low tar cigarette called Real (see image 2).252627


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 brand28
  • RJ Reynolds-MacDonald’s Vantage cigarette brand29
  • British American Tobacco’s Kent cigarette brand30
  • Philip Morris31

Public Affairs for a Front Group: the Tobacco Institute

In 1987 Ogilvy & Mather entered into an agreement with tobacco industry front group the Tobacco Institute 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.”32

Creating Doubt : Sick Building Syndrome

An image of a letter

Image 3: Ogilvy & Mather: ETS Advertising Recommendations: The Business Reader Campaign February 1987 (Source: Truth Tobacco Industry Documents)33

Tobacco smoke is made up of over 7000 chemicals, 69 of which are known causes of cancer.34

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.35

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.363738

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 (see image 3).39

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.40


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.41

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.”42


Anti-Smoking Campaigns: Conflict of Interest?

An image of a fuel tanker in the shape of a cigarette

Image 4: Anti-smoking Campaign by Ogilvy UK, 2007: tanker shaped as cigarette – the back covered with hazardous material warning labels.43

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.44 The group withdrew an anti-smoking advert created for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) 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.”44

Despite this conflict, four years later in 2007, Ogilvy was awarded a Cannes Lions Direct Gold price for their anti-smoking campaign titled “Smoke is Poison” campaign. As part of this campaign, a gas tanker in the form of a cigarette drove around the UK. The back of the tanker was covered with hazardous material warning labels (see image 4).45 (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 which campaigned against Plain Packaging – see below).

Ogilvy in Anti-Smoking Campaigns

A photo of two young people wearing I Quit t-shirts and holding up two fingers of their right hands

Image 5: Smoking Kid – The Ogilvy Singapore ‘I QUIT campaign, 201146


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 highlighting 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”.47 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.” 47

In 2011, the Health Promotion Board and the Ogilvy Singapore team engaged in an exercise “getting under the skin of the target audiences”.(see image 5)4849 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 do is to “help quitters persist through the tough quit journey (…) through a system of encouragement and support”.49 Lim added:

“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.”49

The “I Quit Club” Facebook page shows that over a decade later, the campaign is still running .50


A still image from a video of two small children asking an adult for a light

Image 6: Smoking Kid – Ogilvy uses children to expose adults hypocrisy, Thailand, 2012.51

An advert Ogilvy Asia created for the Thai Health Promotion Foundation in 2012 was called “brilliant in its simplicity” by the Financial Times(see image 6).5152 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.”53 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 went viral and won at least two awards.54


Another prize-winning campaign from 2012, which featured in the annual Sustainability Report of Ogilvy parent company WPP, was a chanting cigarette lighter for the Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA) in India.55

Other work with tobacco companies

In 2013, BAT was described as Ogilvy Groups third largest worldwide client”.56

The role of global brand director was created in 2004 to oversee the BAT account by the marketing services network 141 group. (141 merged with Ogilvy at the time, and was rebranded as OgilvyAction in 2007). In 2004, 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.”57

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.58

Example activities:

  • In 2000 Ogilvy Poland worked for BAT/Rothmans on a cigarette campaign called “laying”.59
  • 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.60
  • Design company Heavylight developed a sales presentation for BAT, based on Ogilvy Action’s concept and artwork, which was shown in Cannes in October 2012.61
  • In 2010, Ogilvy Public Relations Prague was shortlisted for the European Excellence Award for a campaign the agency developed in the Czech Republic for BAT called “Unique People – Unique Brands”.62

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.63

TobaccoTactics Resources

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