A WORLDWIDE COMPANY POLICY AGAINST LICENSING WB FILMS TO BIG TOBACCO &
$$$ FROM BRITISH AMERICAN TOBACCO TO NIGERIAN TOBACCO CONTROL ADVOCATES!
Tobacco launched a huge promotional campaign Nigeria for its Rothmans
brand late last year. The theme of the campaign was "Experience It"
and the main feature was blockbuster Hollywood films, screened in large
airconditioned domes (supposedly a "promotional first" in Africa).
There are many outrageous aspects of the campaign, including free lit
cigarette distribution at event entrances. The double [implied] message:
Experience Hollywood...Experience Smoking. Read detailed descriptions
of the BAT cinema promotional campaign:
A DIALOGUE WITH WARNER BROS
After investigating further, we discovered that all the featured films happen to be Warner Bros productions. So we contacted WB's president of international distribution and asked whether WB had given BAT permission to use its movies in a promotional campaign. We were told no, and that the movies must have been "pirated." We then followed up and asked if we could get an official statement from the company to this effect. We also asked what course of action the company was planning to take against BAT.
The response was that WB would be sending a "cease and desist" letter to BAT and would look into issuing a statement. So, we followed up again and asked when the letter would be sent to BAT and if we could have a copy of it. We also asked if WB would be asking BAT for financial compensation, and if so, suggested that it be donated to Nigerian tobacco control groups -- to help undo the immense harm BAT's Hollywood campaign has done to Nigerian tobacco control efforts. We again encouraged the company to issue a public statement and suggested that it include a pledge not to do business with tobacco companies and their agents, and to take legal action against any that use WB material without authorization.
WARNER BROS LAWYER CALLS
Soon after, we got a call from a Warner Bros lawyer, following up on our last email. He thanked us for bringing the issue to the company's attention, but informed us that in order "not to hurt their legal position", we should expect no further email or phone correspondence from the company. Nor do they plan to issue a public statement at this time. The lawyer said that WB agrees that the issue (which, according to him, was "news to them") is "serious", but they have "no timeline" for dealing with it. We were warned that further correspondence between us or "publicity" could "hurt" their efforts to deal with the issue. In other words: the company does not plan to cooperate on the issue in a transparent manner.
PRESS COVERAGE IN LA TIMES LEADS TO MORE QUESTIONS
Having reached a dead end with Warner Bros, we decided to contact the media. Perhaps Warner Bros would be more forthcoming with a journalist than with us. On March 5, 2003, the LA Times published a short piece on the Hollywood promotional campaign in Nigeria. In it, Warner Bros spokeswoman Barbara Brogliatti says that, "This is not something that we would ever condone." Later in the article, however, a spokesman for BAT says that "the company bought the rights to screen the films in good faith last spring from Warner Nu Metro in South Africa, the film studio's distributor there."
Warner Bros says that BAT did not have the right to use the films for its "Experience It" cinema tour. But what DID BAT have the rights to use the films for? Presumably, BAT was not getting the films merely to hold "Warner Bros film night" for its employees!
FOLLOWING UP AGAIN WITH WARNER BROS
After the LA Times article ran, we called up Warner Bros International Distribution office once again to ask:
Calls to the Warner Bros international distribution office were not returned, and instead referred to Barbara Brogliatti, Senior VP of Corporate Communications, who did not call back promptly. On March 14, 2003, Essential Action, Reality Check (NY), and three Nigerian tobacco control groups (PADDI, ERA-FoE, and JASETE) launched a fax campaign targeting Warner Bros Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer.