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Selected customers of Blackberry mobile communications devices have recently been sent an email lauding the reliability of the “Neverfail” operating system which ensures “high availability and disaster recovery” in the case of mobile network failure. On the surface, the message is about Neverfail and Blackberry. However, at the centre of this direct marketing message is a ringing endorsement by British American Tobacco (BAT). Faced with growing regulation of its business, BAT’s apparent use of electronic co-branding is an example of how the tobacco industry is seeking innovative ways to counter growing marginalisation by public health advocates.
The endorsement boosts BAT’s image within the business community as reliable, forward thinking and dynamic, by associating itself with cutting edge global information technology and successful companies in that sector. While the message is not overtly concerned with selling tobacco products, the prominence given to BAT in the message and website (http://www.neverfailgroup.com/bat.aspx) allows it to remain in the public eye, especially among corporate executives and senior policy makers.
For Neverfail, the potential pitfalls of association with a company that makes and promotes a uniquely dangerous and addictive product, cigarettes, are apparently surmounted by the perceived benefits of a connection with the world’s most international tobacco corporation. The Neverfail website boasts, “Mobile email and applications are essential to helping British American Tobacco senior executives communicate and access information during their travels across the world and through many time zones.”
The public health community must strongly discourage respected companies such as Blackberry from associating themselves with the tobacco industry. The advertisement brings new meaning to the addictiveness of the Blackberry, known by ardent users as the “Crackberry”. The endorsement by David Sampson, head of BAT headquarters information technology, states: “British American Tobacco’s mobile platforms have come to lie at the heart of our business use of technology. The simple fact is that Neverfail keeps that heart beating.” The same cannot be said for BAT, given its leading role in an industry whose products kill five million people each year—many of them from heart disease.