The kiss of Death

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

The Moodie Report always supports ACI Europe’s annual Trading Conferece – at this year’s event in Porto, Portugal, Deputy Publisher Dermot Davitt will be moderating a session – but we think the choice of keynote speaker is unwise in the extreme.

I’m talking about BJ Cunningham, creator of Death Cigarettes, the controversial tobacco house that made a brief name for itself in the 1990s by marketing itself as the only cigarette brand that was completely honest about the dangers of smoking.

Packs featured a grey skull and crossbones while publicity material included tag lines such as ‘Let us be the nail in your coffin’ and – according to Wikipedia – ‘Too bad you’re gonna die’. Confronted by opposition from mainstream tobacco houses, and the tax man, Death itself died in 1999.

I read on the internet this week about Mr Cunningham’s three-step approach to ‘creative positioning’. Porto delegates are likely to hear more of the same. It goes something like this:

1. Take a polarized position.
2. Make enemies.
3. Create tension.

Now, I am not knocking Mr Cunningham and I am sure he is a great entrepreneur and brand-builder. But given that the very same ACI programme includes a presentation from European Travel Retail Council (ETRC) Secretary General Keith Spinks on the threat to airport revenues from a potential ban on duty free tobacco sales, the choice of keynote speaker appears to be akin to loading up the cannons of the anti-tobacco lobby and firing.

Announcing that Spinks would be speaking in Porto, the ETRC said: “A duty free tobacco ban would have a hugely negative impact upon the airports industry and decimate duty free sales. The industry needs to come together and take action to ensure that the travel retail industry is recognised as a safe and secure retail channel.”

Right. But surely not on the same line-up as a man whose company said ‘Let us be the nail in your coffin’?

Try as I might, I cannot see any logic in the decision to have Mr Cunningham speak. It’s an extremely unwise association for the airport community, especially given the sensitivity of the whole duty free tobacco debate. Take a polarized position. Make enemies. Create tension. In this case, in both lobbying and public relations terms, that surely equates to the kiss of Death.

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  • Memento Mori.

    2 April, 2009 by BJ Cunningham

    It never fails to amaze me when people share their expert views on films they have not seen, or places they have not been or indeed on anything at all they have not directly experienced… let alone when they review a presentation that is yet to be given!

    So I read with a raised eyebrow the moody verdict on my Key Note speech that I am to give in Portugal for the ACI Europe Annual Trading Conference later this month. I was particularly baffled by the précis of my “three step approach to ‘creative positioning’” (in itself a phrase I have never and would never use)

    It seems I am to present the idea that one should…
    1. Take a polarized position
    2. Make enemies
    3. Create tension

    I want to be clear… where Mr. Moodie has presented a recipe for disaster, I will be advocating the antithesis; a Buddhist principle that is thousands of years old….
    1. Right Thought
    2. Right Word
    3. Right Action

    Simply put… Know what it is you are trying to say, Say it clearly and then do what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it.

    Mr. Moodie should perhaps read these three points, in order, again, very carefully…

    What I also love is his view that somehow the mention of Death Cigarettes ‘is akin to loading up the cannons for the anti smoking lobby and firing’. How so? Again, for absolutely clarity, I have no respect for those curtain twitchers who masquerade as the anti smoking lobby or their puritan agenda of prohibition. Equally, I have no respect for the hypocritical stance of a Government who feigns health concerns but is happy to receive upwards of £10 billion per annum in revenues from the sale of the product it claims to be directly causes the problem!

    Curtailing distribution of cigarettes is a gentle slide towards prohibition… it only serves to strengthen the arm of smugglers and organised crime and to damage the business of legitimate retailers. My view is that prohibition in any form does not work, it only leads to Al Capone.

    So in conclusion, the only place I can find any sense in Mr. Moodies diatribe is in his quotation of someone else from the ETRC… ‘A duty free tobacco ban would have a hugely negative impact upon the airports industry and decline duty free sales. The industry needs to come together and take action to ensure that the travel retail industry is recognised as a safe and secure retail channel’. I could not agree more.