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The story so far: Godfrey Phillips, Indian subsidiary of Philip Morris and makers of Red & White, one of the country’s most popular cigarette brands, enjoyed many years of outrageous association with other people’s brave deeds and bucketfuls of publicity for the awards it gave them—in the very useful company of many state premiers and cabinet ministers. Memorably, a top company official asserted that the Red & White Bravery Awards “…have nothing to do with our products” (Tobacco Control 2003;12:120).
One highly publicity-productive and photogenic awardee was film star Preity Zinta. Her award recognised her bravery in sticking to her original story in a court case in which key figures in Bollywood were linked to organised crime, after other witnesses withdrew their earlier statements. Stories of awards to people like this ensured massive publicity around the country, and no shortage of acceptance letters to the award ceremonies from politicians often too busy to attend to many of the papers in their in-trays, such as draft tobacco control bills. Then members of the social action group Burning Brain Society protested that the scheme was merely a scam to promote Red & White cigarettes and the whole thing was ruined.
But was it? While the company was forced to let go of the brand name (though apparently it was still seen at some of the presentation ceremonies), the renamed Godfrey Phillips Bravery Awards allowed all the hobnobbing with dignitaries to continue, and so useful must it have been that the company has now launched a spin-off to encourage an important element of health policy: the giving of life-saving blood. Who could they get to front it? Who would get massive publicity for this selfless corporate altruism, and lead the masses into the blood donor clinics?
The answer was staring them in the face, in the Red & White Bravery Awards role of honour: the beautiful and courageous film star Preity Zinta. Her new ambassadorial role will not be confined to the blood donor scheme—the company will also be using her in two other programmes, one on national pride and another on women’s empowerment. With the opportunities for access to decision makers that these projects will bring, perhaps the loss of direct brand advertising may not be such a high price to pay.