The “Hawthorne Effect” of the Tobacco Industry

In the 20’s of the last century, the Hawthorne Factory in USA commissioned a series of studies on their employees that led them to conclude that any attention whether positive or negative can lead to increased productivity. Although the effects were short lived and limited only to the duration of the study the important realization was that the negative attention was as effective as positive attention in giving good results. The concept of the study was simple and all they did was improved the lighting conditions for their employees which increased their productivity then they dimmed the lighting more than the normal level and also productivity increased. Later on those studies were branded as the “Hawthorne Effect” and up till today they are taught in organizational behavior courses.

Of all the industries on which you could see the Hawthorne effect it is perhaps the most evident in the tobacco industry – the industry which has been facing a brutal war since well before the 90’s- the main goal of this war was to stop all the exposure and the attention that the industry was enjoying due to its annual multi-million ad campaigns and drive it back to obscurity. Over the course of years, lobbyists and anti-smoking activists all over the world successfully enforced many laws that varied from banning smoking in closed places to banning any sorts of tobacco related advertisements. Interestingly, and instead of diminishing the attention and the noise that this industry was getting it helped push it more into the limelight. Today, rarely a day passes without a mention of the Tobacco industry.

The Date: 22 October 2006

Location: Sao Paolo, Brazil

Event: the last Grand Prix for the 2006 Formula one season

This marked the last year of tobacco sponsorship for Formula One Racing before the FIA ban became effective in the 2007 season. Out of the 11 teams that were on the start line there were 3 teams that were co-owned by Tobacco companies (mild seven Renault, Lucky Strike  Honda and Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro) those companies decided to stay in that sport till the last minute while others opted to leave a year earlier (Mclaren Mercedes was known as West Mclaren Mercedes a year before and Benson & Hedges were major sponsors for team Jordan before selling out at the end of the 2005 season to SPYKER MF1 Racing. Not to mention all the other companies that came and went over the years. It is estimated also that the tobacco industry spent a whopping 700 million USD on the 2001 formula one season injecting huge amounts of funding to that sport.

For the first while, one might think that this was the ultimate victory for the anti-tobacco community; after all they have conquered the tobacco marketing fortress and took down their last stronghold. The “Godfather” of Formula One was given its final blow….. Or has it? Let’s take a moment here to think of the string of events that happened later on because all what actually happened was that the anti-tobacco fanatics helped the tobacco companies save millions of dollars on marketing and instead they spent their money in marketing for them. From 700 million dollars in 2001 to almost zero dollars in 2007 just think of the things that this industry is capable to do with such an amount especially that they kind of “outsourced” the marketing to the lobbyists who were fighting them. It is now the lobbyists who are still spending millions of dollars per year on marketing campaigns and anti-smoking ads which only helps keep the tobacco industry in the limelight. This here is a reversed Hawthorne effect; the negative attention given to the tobacco industry gave it more and more attention. 7 years after the total ban, it is still a thriving multi-billion dollar industry thanks in a big part to the same lobbyists. The Tobacco industry has not disappeared; it has just reached higher levels.

Today, the tobacco industry has found more ways to get free marketing by using some social media platforms. They do not advertise their products but instead advertise the companies themselves. For instance, British American Tobacco is very active on LinkedIn in advertizing its sustainability and its activities and how they are being chosen among the best 100 employers in the world. You would think for an instance that after all the villainizing that this industry has been exposed to almost no one would want to work there yet instead the tobacco companies are among the best and most attractive employers.

Regardless of the right and wrong concept when it comes to this very controversial industry and without delving into any of the health drama, what happened here is a case of reversed results. The lobbyists tried to “dim” the light on the Tobacco industry and send it to obscurity but they ended up putting it in a different kind of spotlight. This is one industry in the world that is actually enjoying the “free lunch” concept to its fullest while some else is doing the job for them.


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