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tv globe icon link to home Phillip morris: angel of hope

In this commercial Holly, a Philip Morris representative, flies to a refugee camp in Kosovo to oversee the delivery of food donated by the company. A helicopter ferries her into the camp where she meets a young boy, gives him a ride in a jeep through the snowy countryside to the refugee camp, helps passing boxes of Kraft food down a line, and is spiritually renewed by the experience. The commercial is shot like a mini-Hollywood docudrama; it's a clean tragedy with the narrative focus on the transformation of Holly. The uplifting background musical score supports a feeling of spiritual awe.

The commercial is composed of four voices: Holly's two voices (her voice-over and her voice in the narrative), the unidentified female voice-over, and the boy's voice. We call the interactive play of the four voices together (the pragmatic impersonal voice of the corporation that informs, the caring voice of the corporate employee, the moment of interaction between the employee and the beneficiary) the synchronized voice of capital. It is in this controlled discursive space in which legitimation takes place. Keep in mind that outside of pre-designed commercial space Philip Morris must fight an ongoing public relations battle over the role of the tobacco industry in promoting and disguising the negative health effects associated with this product.

Sign Formulas & Branding
Signifying Clusters
Structural Frames
Voice-over, Holly of Philip Morris: In 1998 thousands of families were forced to flee the tragedy in Kosovo. We, at the Philip Morris Companies, felt we needed to do something to help so we sent 5 tons of food.

The drama begins with an aerial view of a refugee camp followed by close-ups of gestures of desperation. We hear Holly's voice-over spew information about the Kosovo tragedy and how "we" at Philip Morris felt the need to help. The 'we' of Philip Morris are 'real people' like Holly who are deeply touched by human tragedy and who take the initiative to help. The first half of the commercial tends to be tinted in the cold blue tones of the wintry sky of Kosovo.

In case we doubt the authenticity of the commercial, "Based on a true story" is superimposed on a frame as the helicopter lands.

Philip Morris' angel looks down from the heavens. She brings not only food but also hope for a better future.

Holly in Kosovo: Hi, I'm Holly from Philip Morris.

At first Holly is all smiles, naive and innocent. She just wants to help. Her face lit from the side expresses hope in a drab and dull world. She identifies herself as a representative of Philip Morris.

Less we forget that Philip Morris is aiding these people the company's name is mentioned 8 times in this commercial.

Voice-over, Holly of Philip Morris: And I went along to see that it got there.

Returning to a voice-over Holly explains that her role is overseeing that the food is delivered. This statement is juxtaposed with a truck driving over snow covered roads. Perhaps we could imagine Holly helping to push out the truck if it got stuck.Her primary function is to star in this commercial.

Kosovo boy: Hi! Are you American?

The boy has run through the woods to greet the helicopter. He puts a face and voice on the tragedy. He is the generalized Other transformed into the specific Other. While Holly represents the corporation, the Kosovo boy represents Humanity-in-need. Philip Morris' aid goes directly to helping an innocent, curious non-threatening child upon whom Holly can bestow maternal concern and affection. Women and children play are large role in legitimation ads. They act both as the corporate voice and as the beneficiary. The caring female voice and the concerned maternal gaze function to ameliorate criticism directed at corporate practices. When corporations experience legitimation crisis, they can use the male voice of authority to convey a renewed credibility (i.e., Firestone CEO on commitment to quality), or the female voice to express care and concern.

Holly in Kosovo: Yea, want a ride?
Voice-over, Holly of Philip Morris: I know that there are plenty of people who need help in our own country and we do that but we couldn't turn our backs on a crisis like this.

In her Jeep Holly leads a convoy of trucks to the tents of the refugee camp. The boy rides along. In the background the helicopter flies by creating a dynamic quality to the shot. It appears to be an action adventure film.

As Holly drives past the human suffering of the refugee camp, she speaks in the Philip Morris 'we.' Philip Morris doesn't just help in Kosovo. Philip Morris is ubiquitous like the Red Cross. In another commercial Philip Morris delivers fresh water in Miller Beer bottles to flood victims in the South.

Voice-over, unidentified female: For more than 40 years the Philip Morris Companies have been one of the largest corporate contributors to disaster relief efforts in the United States and abroad.

Demonstrating empathy and solidarity Holly joins refugees passing boxes of food down the line. She turns the box to the camera in order that the Kraft food label is clearly visible.

A out of frame objective female voice speaks for Philip Morris in a neutral voice. Using statistics and superlatives she speaks in the language of the media spectacle. Hype and inflection position this corporation as responsible corporate citizen.

Despair changes to smiles as the food is delivered.

Voice-over, Holly of Philip Morris: You know it's funny I thought that I was coming all this way to do something that would touch their lives but it turns out they were the ones that touched mine. The dull blue grey tones are replaced by warm golden tones. A community is born.

Holly now speaks in a new voice. Holly is no longer naive and innocent; she is thoughtful and self-reflective. She reveals her transformation to the viewer.

It is Holly who is the star of this narrative. She even looks like the star.

Voice-over, unidentified female: Working to make a difference. The people of Philip Morris.

Holly meets the boy again. He is thankful for the food; she for the fulfilling experience of helping someone in need. The female voice over concludes the commercial with a tagline as the shot of Holly and the boy is superimposed over the Philip Morris brand logos. It is this joining of signifiers out of which the legitimizing moment is constructed.

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Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey