For those who have been following this blog, thank you for your readership; and for your shared concern regarding what is undoubtedly one of the most pressing health, social and economic disasters confronting Indonesia. Amongst those whose attention we have attracted has been the Global Trade Mark Counsel at Unilever in the UK. Unilever have taken umbrage at our alleged inference that there is a connection between Sampeorna's (Philip Morris) Magnum brand of cigarette and Unilever's Magnum ice-cream brand.
"... we are concerned about the negative impact that such references to our brand could have."
Please allow me to make Saksara's position very clear to our readers. Saksara is in no way suggesting that there is any connection or collusion between Sampoerna and Unilever in the branding of the Magnum brand of cigarette.
What we are saying though, is its our opinion that it is completely implausible that Sampoerna's branding of Magnum Blue cigarettes was thoroughly accidental, and not at all related to leveraging off Unilever's Magnum ice-cream brand. Unilever have consistently asserted that Sampoerna legally own the rights to the Magnum brand for cigarettes, which we do not doubt. With respect to our thoughts on the Magnum cigarette branding, Unilever's trade mark counsel believe it is quite within the rights of Sampoerna to do so. They believe the packaging is a collection of common design elements that just accidentally resemble an ice-cream brand that is marketed extensively to young women.
"... The other similarities you refer to between the brands (font size, ripple backgrounds, etc) are in fact commonly-used elements on packs and products across a range of different product sectors and not something that Unilever has any exclusivity to. For these reasons we do not agree with your assertion that Sampoerna are clearly targeting consumers of our ice cream products with the launch of their Magnum Blue offering". Unilever Trade Mark Counsel
We believe that these statements, whilst perhaps legally correct, represent the permissive attitude that the corporate community have towards their fellow corporate conglomerates, irrespective of their corporate behaviour. Sampoerna is now wholly owned by the Philip Morris Group, which is one of the big three multinational food conglomerates in the the world, along with Unilever and Nestle. Philip Morris, as well as being the corporation behind unimaginable human misery, pain and suffering caused by the estimated 400,000 tobacco related deaths each year in Indonesia; are also the corporation that brings you Oreo cookies, or Toblerone chocolate.
Unilever are not a tobacco company, but their comments demonstrate that they don't really take seriously the marketing prowess of the tobacco industry. They would garner much more respect if they were to concede the uncomfortable similarities in the packaging and relent their inability to legally contest it. But to outright suggest that it is an accident of branding that randomly aligns the outright target demographic for current tobacco marketers with the same target for Magnum ice-creams is just embarrassing or naive. Around 75% of Indonesian men smoke. Its a saturated market that requires some branding maintenance. But, young female smokers is the real growth area. Generating what they call "uptake" in the "target demographic" is the new growth stream in Indonesia.
But again, we believe the best judge of the similarities is you the reader. Successive correspondences with Unilever suggests they believe it's just a lucky coincidence for Sampoerna. Unequivocally, everyone that we have spoken to believe that it is a more deliberate and calculated marketing move. Leveraging one brand from another is nothing new in the world of marketing. Its a difficult thing for international brand legal departments to combat. Its costly and quite often not worth the expense; or there are just no jurisdictional or legal grounds for litigation. Sometimes though, the combined marketing of similar consumer products can have a positive multiplying affect for both products.
Unilver's Magnum Pink and Magnum Black brands with Sampoerna's Magnum Blue brand
Corporate and social responsibility is about balancing your corporate and profit obligations to investors, with your responsibility to your customers, the community and the environment. Its about both your corporate attitudes and your corporate actions. It's not about the sentiment your spin doctors fill on that link of your corporate web site. We all know that Sampoerna (Philip Morris) have no social responsibility to their consumers. We expect it from them. They represent everything that is wrong with the corporate world. Greed, death and misery. However Unilever go to great lengths to portray themselves as being different. They are making trillions from Indonesian consumers; and they are set to make much more as this economy of 250 million plus consumers grows ever more consuming. Rather than dismiss consumer concerns regarding the tobacco brand similarities, it would be nice to hear Unilever come out and say... Yes, we don't like it at all. We too are upset that one of our brands, that brings a moment of food joy and pleasure to our customers, is being hijacked by a product of death and misery.
This was an opportunity for Unilever to demonstrate some leadership and empathy in Indonesia, but instead we got some legal empathy towards the culprits. There are 100 positive moves that Unilever could have made. They stand to profit considerably from the economic liberation of consumers who smoke massive proportions of their income. Perhaps they may even choose to indulge in an ice-cream in healthy moderation. Rather than supporting the anti-tobacco lobby in Indonesia, they chose corporate defence. No more Magnum ice-creams for this office for some time.
And for the record... Around 50 Indonesians died from tobacco related diseases in the time it took to write this blog.