How Can Product Managers Tell Customers To Not Use Their Product?

Product managers face a challenge trying to get customers to not use their product
Product managers face a challenge trying to get customers to not use their product
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Every product needs a product manager. This means that things that are good for us (think vegetables, running shoes, and protein bars) all need product managers. Likewise, things that are legal but perhaps not so good for us also need to have their own product managers (think guns, fatty foods, and porn). Into this latter category falls cigarettes. There is no doubt that cigarettes are a big business or that they are bad for the customers who choose to use them. They are legal, but they are also generally considered to be deadly for those who choose to smoke. This is the way that the world has been for quite some time. Until things changed. All of sudden, cigarette product managers found themselves in the challenging position of having to find ways to get their customers to not smoke.

The Reason For The Ads

If we all know that cigarettes are so bad for the people who smoke them, then why do we allow this to still go on? As with all such answers, it’s a bit complicated. We need to understand that smoking of tobacco has been with us for well over 200 years. During most of this time, smoking was not seen as being a dangerous thing to do. Rather, it was a pastime that the elite and wealthy engaged in during important meetings, after meals, and just before going to bed. It’s really only been in the past 50 years or so that the studies have been done that show that for most people, smoking can lead to a number of very serious health related issues. This means that cigarettes were a part of our culture before we knew how bad they were.

In fact, we’ve probably all seen those vintage cigarette TV commercials that use to run back in the 1950’s. These, along with magazine ads and billboards were some of the ways that cigarette product managers attempted to reach out and capture nonsmokers and the next generation of smokers. However, things changed as the health studies started to come in. No longer were cigarette companies permitted to advertise on TV. Additionally, all of the billboards had to come down. Cigarettes are still permitted to advertise in magazines; however, they now have to include large health warnings that are prominently displayed as a part of the magazine ad.

Things took a turn for the worse for cigarette companies and their product managers back 20 years ago when the U.S. Justice Department sued the cigarette companies. The lawsuit said that the cigarette companies had made misleading statements in their ads in regards to cigarettes and their health effects. As you might well imagine, when companies as large as tobacco companies get sued, they are going to do everything in their power to make the case drag on. And they did. However, in the end it was finally resolved in the government’s favor. What this means now for product managers is that the cigarette companies have to make up for their past sins and their product development definition by telling the world just how deadly their products are.

The Product Manager Plan

Nobody ever said that being a product manager was going to be easy to do. However, when the government spends 20 years suing you and then eventually wins the lawsuit, you know that your job just got a lot harder. The major cigarette companies in the U.S., Altria Group Inc. and British American Tobacco PLC, have agreed to settle the lawsuit by running ads that will inform their current and potential customers about the dangers of smoking. The agreement that the companies have reached with the government is that they will run ads both on TV and in newspapers such that they will reach most of the people who live in the U.S. with their message. It will now be the responsibility of the company’s product managers to make sure that the ads get created and then are run as per the agreement.

The companies have agreed to run TV commercials that are between 30-45 seconds long. These ads will be run during prime time and will be run 5 times per week for 52 weeks. The ads will appear mostly on the ABC, NBC, and CBS television channels. What’s interesting about these ads is that they will not contain the graphic images that a lot of non-smoking television ads have. Instead, they will display black text on a white screen with voice narration. This has all been mandated by the courts. Full page print ads will appear in at least 45 newspapers in the U.S. The print ads will run for five weekends spread over four months. Additionally, the ads will appear on the newspaper’s websites.

On the surface, it would appear as though cigarette product managers are pretty much out of luck. However, if you take the time to take a closer look at what will be happening and examine your product manager job description, things might start to look a bit different. First off, one of the most important audiences for the cigarette makers is the younger audience – the next generation of smokers. The ads that the cigarette companies are being forced to run will be on television and in newspapers. The younger generation does not spend a lot of time watching or reading either of these media streams. If the cigarette companies had had to broadcast their message on Facebook or send out Instagram pictures, then this audience would have been more impacted.

In all honesty, this lawsuit and its settlement really represent how the cigarette companies used to do business. They now realize that their products are dangerous and that their customers are all going to eventually realize this also. This means that the product managers at cigarette companies are already starting to take steps to change the products that they sell. What they are looking for are less risky tobacco products. If they can come up with a way at will allow their customers to continue to smoke while not experiencing the harmful health effects, then they may have found the winning combination that they will need to stay in business and be successful.

What All Of This Means For You

Every product needs to have a product manager and cigarettes are no exception. Yes, we all realize that cigarettes can be harmful to those people who smoke them, but we also realize that there is a big demand for cigarettes. Cigarettes are permitted to be sold because of the history of how they were developed and the fact that nobody realized how dangerous they were until fairly late in the game. The U.S. Justice Department sued the U.S. tobacco companies 20 years ago because of false and misleading claims that they had made about cigarettes and their health effects. This lawsuit just got resolved in the government’s favor and now the cigarette companies have to tell their customers how dangerous cigarettes can be. The companies will run television commercials and full page ads in 45 different newspapers telling customers and potential customers how bad cigarettes can be. Product managers may be getting off easy here. Their most important customer segment, young smokers, generally don’t watch prime time television or read the newspaper. This group may not be affected by this ad campaign.

Losing a lawsuit that may have started before you were born can be a tough blow to any product manager. That sure is not going to look good on anyone’s product manager resume. However, in the case of the cigarette product managers they need to understand that they now have responsibilities that must be done in order to meet the letter of the law. However, this negative (for them) advertising campaign will not last for all that long. While it is going on, the product managers will have to lie low. However, when it’s done in a year, then they can pick things up and once again get back to work!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What can cigarette product managers do during the year when negative smoking ads will be running?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So let’s see a show of hands. Who here enjoys a delicious, juicy, burger? Hmm, I don’t see everyone’s hands going up, but I do see just about everyone’s hands going up. There is no question that in the developed 1st world countries, people do love their meat. There’s just one problem – it turns out that it’s really expensive in terms of land, water, and feed to raise the animals that produce all of that meat. As the rest of the world starts to develop a taste for protein, we’re just not going to be able to keep doing things the way that we’re doing them today. Looks like its time for the product managers to step in and lend a helping hand by changing their protein product development definition.