Eraserheads Concert: Who’s Wagging the Dog?


Dave Gomez, the public affairs and communications manager of Philip Morris, was quoted in this report as saying that the Eraserheads reunion concert will push through. He revealed that Philip Morris is not sponsoring the event — in fact, he said, the tobacco company is organizing it.

“We’re not sponsoring the event. We organized it ourselves,” Gomez was quoted as saying. “The event is free for our valued customers. This is a little something we do for them to show them our appreciation for their continued patronage of our products.”

Gomez emphasized this because of a legal point that would seem to clear Philip Morris of accusations that it violated Republic Act 9211 (the Tobacco Regulation Act). Apparently, under this law, tobacco companies can organize events but they cannot sponsor it. Go figure.

(A bit of an aside: Gomez said he was surprised why anti-tobacco advocates are complaining against a tobacco-backed concert when, according to him, they had done this sort of thing in the past with other bands. Newsflash: The ban on sponsorship took effect only last July 1.)

We grant for a moment that the company’s ass is covered, legally speaking. And, moreover, it’s probably not its fault if this law seemed defective (although big companies are notorious for lobbying legislators to either kill a proposed law or water it down — just look at what they’re doing lobbying hard against a law that would mandate picture-based warnings on cigarette packs).

But where does corporate responsibility come in for Philip Morris?

Surely, they must know that the intent of the law is to protect the public, particularly teenagers, from smoking and that governments around the world have passed legislation banning or restricting the advertising and promotion of tobacco. Yet, here comes Philip Morris and it finds an apparent loophole in our law and then exploits it — disregarding completely the intent of the law. And for what? To be able to sell their products to teenagers and young adults, a market that tobacco companies have been targeting in order to replenish their ranks of smokers.

Isn’t the profit from existing smokers not enough, so that they had to lure more smokers, younger smokers? Is their any hope that Philip Morris would be decent enough to exercise some amount of responsibility?

Aside from finding loopholes in the law, regardless of its clear intent, Philip Morris, as I’ve pointed out in a previous post, has likewise been exploiting the viral-marketing potentials of the Internet. That can only be expected, of course, from a company that peddles a toxic product. What I find disturbing is Philip Morris’s ability to penetrate the mainstream press, the blogs and the mailing lists and apparently manipulate them. That, or there’s complicity on the part of these sectors in the mainstream press and the Internet, whether they knew it or not, to play the company’s game.

A bit of a background is needed here. News about the Eraserheads reunion concert was first reported publicly by Philippine Star entertainment columnist Ricky Lo. In his column, Lo did not name Philip Morris as the one organizing the event. But the column was enough to heighten the buzz.

Pretty soon, Philmusic, a music site whose owner, Jim Ayson, also moderates the largest Eraserheads mailing list (with more than 5,000 members), reported that it had learned from a source that, indeed, Philip Morris/Marlboro is behind the concert. As far as I could tell, philmusic and Ayson’s mailing list is the ground zero of the buzz. It was also there, again as far as I could tell, where people were directed to a website where one can join the “Red List” in order to get tickets to the concert.

In other words, if I were Philip Morris, philmusic and Ayson’s mailing list would be my logical target for planting information or tips that would generate the buzz. Now I’m not suggesting anything improper or unethical on Ayson’s or philmusic’s part. Anybody, after all, can join or post anything on the mailing list or that, knowing Ayson’s clout in the local music scene, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he has sources knowledgeable about the planned concert. In fact, it’s very likely that, it being an extraordinary piece of news and buzz, philmusic just reported what it learned, not knowing perhaps that it was being manipulated by Philip Morris in what was turning out to be a terrific viral marketing campaign.

My point is that, tobacco companies will do anything to sell their products. The Internet, because of its freewheeling nature and its enormous audience composed of precisely the demographic tobacco companies have been targeting, holds huge potentials for the marketing of tobacco. If anything, the buzz that Philip Morris generated for the Eraserheads reunion concert only validated this. (Carlos H. Conde/pinoypress.net)

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