Dave Barry

The name game

This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, July 28, 1996

I want to stress that I'm not bitter about what the Philip Morris Corp. is trying to do with the name "Dave."

In case you didn't know, Philip Morris is test-marketing a new brand of cigarettes called "Dave's." Over the past year I've seen big billboard advertisements for "Dave's" cigarettes in Seattle and Denver. These are folksy ads; one of them features a tractor. The message is that "Dave's" is a folksy brand of cigarette, produced by a down-to-earth, tractor-driving guy named "Dave" for ordinary people who work hard and make an honest living, at least until they start coughing up big folksy chunks of trachea.

Of course there is no actual "Dave." The people at Philip Morris are just calling the new brand "Dave's" because they think the name "Dave" sounds trustworthy and non-corporate. This is pretty funny when you consider that Philip Morris is the world's largest tobacco company and has enough marketing experts and advertising consultants and lawyers and lobbyists to sink an aircraft carrier, not that I'm suggesting anything.

According to an article in Advertising Age, Philip Morris made up a whole story -- described by a Philip Morris spokesperson as "a tale of fictional imagery" -- about how the "Dave's" brand of cigarettes got started. Here's the story, as quoted by Advertising Age from Philip Morris promotional materials:

"Down in Concord, N.C., there's a guy named Dave. He lives in the heart of tobacco farmland. Dave enjoys lots of land, plenty of freedom and his yellow '57 pickup truck. Dave was fed up with cheap, fast-burning smokes. Instead of just getting mad, he did something about it . . . Dave's tobacco company was born."

Is that a heartwarming and inspirational tale of fictional imagery, or what? A guy -- a regular guy; a guy exactly like you, except that he doesn't exist -- gets FED UP with the "status quo." So instead of just sitting around and complaining, he gets up off his imaginary butt and -- in the great "can-do" tradition of Americans such as John Wayne, who courageously pretended to be many brave heroes before he died with just the one remaining lung -- "Dave" decides to make his own brand of cigarettes.

Philip Morris does not provide details regarding how, exactly, "Dave" raised the money to build his cigarette factory. Maybe "Dave" robbed a nursing home; maybe "Dave" borrowed the money from other members of his neo-Nazi group; maybe "Dave" sold his huge collection of child pornography. You could make up any story you wanted about what "Dave" did, because "Dave" is not real! That's the kind of fun you and Philip Morris can have with tales of fictional imagery.

On the other hand, you must be very, very careful when you talk about real people. An example of a real person would be Geoffrey C. Bible, who is the chief executive officer of Philip Morris.

Because Geoffrey C. Bible is real, you should not use the name "Geoffrey C. Bible" in a derogatory way. You should not, for example, say, "Darn it! The dog made Geoffrey C. Bible on the carpet again!" Nor should you permit your youngsters to use expressions such as "Tommy stuck his finger way up into his nose and pulled out a big old Geoffrey C. Bible!" Nor should you say that a person caught engaging in an unnatural act of romance with a sheep was "doing the Geoffrey C. Bible." That would be wrong.

It would also be wrong to make up a tale of fictional imagery about Geoffrey C. Bible, such as:

"Down in the heart of Philip Morris corporate headquarters there's a guy named Geoffrey C. Bible. Geoffrey C. Bible enjoys plenty of employees and a corporate jet. Geoffrey C. Bible was fed up with so-called 'scientists' saying that cigarettes kill more people every year than alcohol, cocaine, crack, heroin, homicide, suicide and O.J. Simpson. Instead of just getting mad, Geoffrey C. Bible did something about it. He deposited his enormous paycheck."

So does everybody understand the ethical point here? You may NOT take liberties with the name "Geoffrey C. Bible." You may, however, take the name "Dave" and do pretty much whatever you want to it. As I say, I'm not at all bitter that Philip Morris has decided to appropriate my name, and my father's name, and the name that a lot of regular guys who really exist have used over the years, a name that has apparently earned some measure of trust, which is why Philip Morris wants to attach its new cigarette brand to this name, the way a leech attaches itself to your leg. Who knows? If this strategy works out, maybe it'll inspire a whole bunch of new cigarette brands with trustworthy names. I bet that even as you read this, some marketing people, somewhere, are batting around the concept of "Jesus" cigarettes.

They need to keep coming up with ideas. They're in a tough business: The people who use their products -- and I am NOT implying that there's a connection -- keep dying of lung cancer. It's an unfortunate situation, and I for one am getting fed up. But instead of getting mad, I'm going to do something about it.

I'm going to start calling lung cancer "Geoffrey's disease."

c 2011, Dave Barry

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