Philip Morris May Sue Toronto AIDS Charity Over ‘Condom Country’ Ads
U.S. tobacco company Philip Morris is considering suing the AIDS Committee of Toronto over ACT's new series of ads featuring cowboy images that "arguably borro[w] several elements" from the tobacco company's "Marlboro Man" campaign, the National Post reports. The ACT ads, released last week to coincide with Toronto's gay pride festivities, feature the slogan, "Welcome to Condom Country" and depict two gay cowboys appearing ready to kiss. Below the picture a caption reads, "HIV is on the rise in Toronto. Ride Safely." Philip Morris called the ads a "blatant copy" of its 40-year-old Marlboro Man campaign, which also features "rustic setting[s] and a ruggedly handsome cowboy" and the slogan "Welcome to Marlboro country." Robert Kaplan, communications director for Philip Morris, said, "In the look and feel we believe it's very similar and it concerns us. We object to any unauthorized use of our intellectual property," adding that the company has "no problem with the cause." ACT Executive Director Charles Roy said that the charity sought legal advice before proceeding with the ad campaign and was told that the ads were not an infringement on Philip Morris' rights. He also noted that several companies, including General Motors, use "macho male" cowboy imagery in their advertising. If Philip Morris decides to pursue legal action, it may face a "public outcry" for suing a not-for-profit agency over a public service advertisement, the Post reports. However, Philip Morris may not have a legal case since it sold the Canadian copyright for Marlboro to Montreal-based Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. decades ago. Imperial does not advertise Marlboro and has no affiliation with Philip Morris. Kaplan said that Philip Morris lawyers are "still studying" the case and may pursue action under international copyright laws (Eby, National Post, 6/26).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.