Landscapes of Global Capital
tv globe icon link to home Signifying Clusters: Children
Introduction
Feed the children
Corporate paternalism
The cure
High tech classroom
Techno-metaphor
Child prodigy
The obnoxious visionary
Unfettered imagination
We care
Harmonious music
Cynicism of legitimation
You can't buy love
Harmony of technology

In an effort to transform the image of a company under siege by anti-tobacco forces to one concerned for the public good Philip Morris launched a campaign highlighting its good works. Themes of its commercials range from providing drinking water to flood victims in the South to food to Kosovo refugees. Several ads express the corporation's concern for children. In one ad ("Based on a true story") Donna Spence of the Crossroads Teen Shelter in Lansing, Michigan states:

Spence: Lying in the shadows, under bridges, and in the alleys, Some people call them throwaways. Can you imagine how it must feel when you're own parents don't want you? When I took over Crossroads, it was a shelter for teens. And it was pretty run down. So we started project rebuild to make it a real home for the kids.
Trouble was we ran short of money before we could even get the roof up. I didn't know where to turn. That's when I called the Philip Morris Companies. And they sent us a Christmas present. It covered everything."

Female narrator: "The Philip Morris Companies knows there are many people in jeopardy. That's why over the last four decades we've contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to programs that can make a difference in someone's life."

Spence: "Now the kids take pride in their home. Philip Morris didn't forget about us either. Whenever we've needed support, they've come through. They've helped me turn a homeless teen shelter into a home."

Female narrator: "Working to make a difference. The people of Philip Morris."

In another ad in which Philip Morris acknowledges tobacco production it ironically constructs itself as deeply concerned about preventing non-adults from smoking. Again Philip Morris offers another testimonial "based on a true story." Here, convenient store owner confronts children as they attempt to buy cigarettes. The ad starts in black and white depicting 'dad's store' as an authentic place. The present day owner serves as narrator for the humorous montage of children attempting to buy cigarettes.

He states "I have heard the lamest excuses." As the children file past, they try to convince the owner to sell them cigarettes. "Her dog ate my ID." "We, uh, need them for a school science project." "There not for us. There for my mom outside." "I look young for my age." Luckily, Philip Morris is there to support the owner. "But that all changed a few years ago when this We Card program started now there's no argument. I just point to the sign." The narrator proudly states that "We're committed to keeping cigarettes out of kids' hands. That's why Phillip Morris is a major sponsor of the 'We card' program and has educated hundreds of thousands of retailers on how to recognize fake IDs and uphold the law."

Legitimation advertising is produced to ameliorate cynicism and criticism directed at corporate practices. Often it takes the form of crisis management: Firestone tires, the Exxon Valdez, or the health consequences of cigarette smoking. On the one hand, legitimation advertising might deepen the crisis. At what point does is a campaign so laden with contradiction that rather than containing crisis creates cynicism to corporate public relation discourse in general. Does corporate sloganism, i.e. "Working to make a difference" expose the metacodes of this genre of advertising when it is juxtaposed with corporate practices that are obvious violations of the public good. Philip Morris' legitimation advertising contradicts its commodity advertising that correlates desirable images to cigarettes. Why do these children desire cigarettes in the first place. To what extent does commodity advertising brand cigarette smoking desirable? On the other hand, legitimation advertising may move public opinion into a neutral mode. Here, we might pose Herbert Marcuse's hypothesis that opposites harmoniously coexist in our one-dimensional world. Paradoxically, the function of legitimation advertising is to cultivate apathy. Promoting positive corporate practices serves as a counterweight to bad press. Public relations is not designed to promote action (such as commodity advertising) but ensure inaction.


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Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey