Philip Morris spin off

Well, for years people have been secretly spreading the word about Marlboro’s supposed “involvement in foods and drinks markets”. Few end consumers knew that the owner, Philip Morris, which had often reaped criticism for promoting its tabacco products, also marketed household favourites as varied as Milka chocolate, Jacobs Krönung coffee and Toblerone in Germany, and Vegemite, Maxwell House and Miller beer in other markets – not forgetting Philadelphia soft cheese.

What, these products were made by a cigarette company? Well, yes and no. They didn’t make the products, but companies they either practically owned – or had a major interest in – did.

Former friend of smokers

Former friend of smokers

Yes, PM more or less owned Kraft Jacobs Suchard. But did it really broadcast this fact openly? No. Why not? Because of the potential bad publicity? Or because, like P&G, they saw no need to. Maybe that was just their branding strategy.

Well, things became much simpler and less controversial for the tobacco behemoth in March 2007 when it spun off its 88% stake of the food company – effectively meaning it had no more interest in Kraft. The fact that it had changed its name to Altria many moons earlier was another smart move in concealing the company behind the big lung fillers.

Still smoking

Still smoking?

So I wonder what it will now do with its 28% share in SABMiller, which you’ll probably know better through brands like Grolsch, Carling Black Label, Miller Lite, Pilsner Urquell, Nastro Azzurro …

Let’s be clear about this. The “new company”, Altria, doesn’t make these brands. Philip Morris has been very clever in extricating itself from the link between the cigarette companies and the brands we see in the supermarkets. But what is interesting is the way they “spin off” their interests to “shareholders” (whoever they may be!). Or as it states on sites such as wikipedia (and we all know anyone can edit the articles there): “shares [were] distributed to Altria shareholders”.

I won’t comment on this further. We all know how sensitive big companies can be to people sticking their nose in their branding strategies.

Alex Woodruff

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