Philip Morris Companies Inc.—parent to Philip Morris USA, Philip Morris International, Miller Brewing and Kraft Foods—announced in November 2001 that it would ask stockholders to approve a name change for the parent company … to Altria Group Inc.
Stockholders approved the change on April 25, 2002, at their annual meeting. Before and after the meeting, Philip Morris—whose Marlboro cigarettes outsell all their competitors combined—became a target for critics and satirists.
Philip Morris maintained that Altria came from the Latin word “altus,” meaning “high.” Then-CEO Geoffrey C. Bible said the name reflected Philip Morris Companies Inc.’s commitment to “reach higher.”
But Philip Morris also anticipated criticism of the name change, as evidenced by its mass registration of Internet domain names like altria-kills.com, altria-kills.net, altria-kills.org, altria-stinks.com, altria-stinks.net, altria-stinks.org and so on.
So what are people saying about this latest battle between Big Tobacco and its detractors?
“If Philip Morris doesn’t want to produce cigarettes, fine—but as long as it does, it should probably pretend to be proud of that fact.” – Bob Greene, Chicago Tribune
“The proposal to clarify the parent company identity comes two years after a successful effort to improve the image of the Philip Morris family of companies. Research indicates that the companies are viewed as changing for the better and becoming a more responsible corporate citizen, among other indicators of favorable public opinion.” – Philip Morris press release announcing the proposed name change
“The November 16th 2001 announcement comes on the heels of what has widely been seen as a failed $250 million dollar corporate image advertising campaign, which highlighted the company’s charitable contributions and downplayed the deadly and addictive tobacco products that built the company.” – Tom Price, CorpWatch
“While Philip Morris may have changed its corporate name to Altria today, it hasn’t changed its deadly practices and refuses to accept responsibility for the fact that more kids smoke its Marlboro cigarettes than all other brands combined. Nothing has changed but the name.” – Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in a press release
“Shareholders of Philip Morris Cos. Inc. on Thursday approved the change of the company’s name to Altria Group Inc. and rejected three proposals asking the tobacco company to adopt more stringent anti-smoking policies.” – Michael Buettner, Associated Press
“Officials from the newly renamed company announced today that their primary product, cigarettes, will now be known as ‘Health Stix.’ In a related decision, Altria has renamed tar and nicotine ‘sugar and spice,’ and will call hideously discolored brown teeth ‘chick magnets.’ In addition, desperate, hacking, phlegmy coughs will now be known as ‘breathing.'” – BorowitzReport.com, a satirical site
“The company would have gotten less heat if it had chosen a name not also held by a healthcare establishment. But, Phillip Morris is a ‘marked’ company, no matter what it does.” – Communications expert Fraser Seitel, interviewed in the Naming Newsletter
“For years, the employees of Altria Healthcare Corp. have worked hard to build a well-regarded business in the health care field. It is obviously of great concern to a health care business to have a big tobacco and alcohol company wish to adopt an identical name.” – Warren Smedley, president of Altria Healthcare Corp., in the Birmingham Business Journal
“No matter how often a snake sheds its skin … It’s still a snake.” – Line from an advertisement by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
“The idea that consumers know, care, or are seduced by corporate brand names is a load of old faecia.” – Anne Karpf, London’s Guardian