RJR Fires Agency After No-Smoking Ad Runs

Associated Press

RJR Nabisco fired one of its longtime advertising agencies Tuesday, and a source familiar with the decision said the tobacco and foods giant was offended by a no-smoking ad that the agency recently made for Northwest Airlines.

The agency, Saatchi & Saatchi DFS Inc., is the successor to agencies that have been making ads for Nabisco cookies for 12 years and for Life Savers candy for 18 years.

Industry sources estimate that the agency was handling about $100 million in ad billings for RJR Nabisco, making it a major account by ad industry standards.


RJR Nabisco, in a brief statement issued from Atlanta, disclosed that it had “elected to conclude its relationship” with Saatchi & Saatchi DFS because of philosophical differences.

“It is important that as RJR Nabisco Inc. shapes and executes its marketing and sales objectives it deals with advertising agencies that have a wholly consistent philosophical approach to its plans and programs,” the statement said.

But the company said “during this important period, philosophical differences have developed” between RJR Nabisco and Saatchi that prompted it to fire the agency.

RJR executives refused to elaborate on the statement or to comment on the suggestion that it was unhappy with Saatchi’s no-smoking ads for its client Northwest.

Unhappy With Ads

Saatchi said it was “very saddened and disappointed” at RJR’s action, but its executives also declined to comment on what may have led to the decision.

But one source familiar with the events, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the company was unhappy with the ads for Northwest, which announced plans two weeks ago to ban smoking on most of its North American flights starting April 23.

The airline has promoted the plan heavily in print and broadcast ads. The plan goes farther than required by government regulations, which ban smoking on flights of fewer than two hours starting later this month.

In one television commercial announcing the plans, a lone smoker is shown puffing on a cigarette at the back of an airplane.

As the camera pans back up the aisle, a narrator announces Northwest’s plans to offer “a smoke-free environment” on all of its North American flights. The other passengers stand up and applaud.

“Upset is too mild a term,” the source said when asked to describe RJR’s reaction to Saatchi’s work for Northwest.

Ironically, Saatchi & Saatchi DFS’ New York unit--Saatchi & Saatchi DFS Compton--does no cigarette advertising for RJR Nabisco, whose R. J. Reynolds Tobacco unit markets Camel, Winston, Salem and Vantage cigarettes.

Had Several Accounts

Saatchi does create advertising for True cigarettes, which are made by Loews Corp.’s Lorillard division, an RJR competitor.

Saatchi’s assignments for RJR Nabisco include Life Savers Roll Candy, Care Free Sugarless Chewing Gum and Oreo, Chips Ahoy! and Almost Home cookies. The agency plans to continue handling the accounts for a 90-day transition period.

Saatchi & Saatchi’s U.S. billings amount to about $1.6 billion, according to the trade journal Advertising Age. It is a unit of London-based Saatchi & Saatchi PLC, the biggest ad holding company in the world.