Reuters Cigarette maker Philip Morris International Inc. has suspended a global social media marketing campaign in response to Reuters inquiries into the company’s use of young online personalities to sell its new “heated tobacco” device, including a 21-year-old woman in Russia.
The company’s internal “marketing standards” prohibit it from promoting tobacco products with youth-oriented celebrities or “models who are or appear to be under the age of 25.”
The company told Reuters of the decision late Friday, saying it had launched an internal investigation into marketing posts and photographs that Reuters sent to the company for comment earlier this week.
They included a paid post plugging the tobacco product by social media “influencer” Alina Tapilina in Moscow — who listed her age as 21 on Instagram — alongside often seductive photos of herself drinking wine, swimming and posing with little clothing in luxurious settings.
“We have taken the decision to suspend all of our product-related digital influencer actions globally,” the company told Reuters. “Whilst the influencer in question is a legal age adult smoker, she is under 25 and our guidance called for influencers to be 25+ years of age. This was a clear breach of that guidance.”
“No laws were broken,” the company told Reuters. “However, we set high standards for ourselves and these facts do not excuse our failure to meet those standards in this instance.”
The company added: “We were deeply disappointed to discover this breach and are grateful that it was brought to our attention.”
While most of the social media influencers hired by Philip Morris overseas did not list their ages on Instagram, a Reuters review of the firm’s social media marketing of IQOS in Japan, Italy, Switzerland, Russia and Romania shows that Tapilina’s online persona was typical of what the company called its social media “ambassadors” for the device — rail-thin young women who revel in the high life.
The company did not directly respond to additional questions Friday night regarding the intended audience for its digital influencer campaigns.
Many of the messages contained the hashtag “#IQOSambassador,” tying them into a network of social media influencers that the international tobacco giant has relied on to brand the IQOS as a safer alternative to cigarettes and a sexy fashion accessory.