Philip Morris Denies Marlboro Report
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The world's largest tobacco company, Philip Morris Cos. Inc., on Monday denied a newspaper report that it was considering diversifying its Marlboro brand name away from tobacco and into the hotel, media and mobile phone industries.
``The story is completely unfounded,'' said Elizabeth Chow, spokeswoman for Philip Morris International Inc., the company's international arm.
The Financial Times in London reported on Monday that Philip Morris feared the Marlboro name faced the prospect of slow decay as various advertising bans came into force and was looking for new areas for its brand. Marlboro has been independently valued at $21 billion, making it the 10th most valuable brand around the globe, the paper reported.
One industry analyst called the notion ``outlandish,'' saying it would be hard to pull off for a company facing an onslaught of legal battles and could provide another soapbox for anti-tobacco advocates.
``Any company with a brand as valuable as Philip Morris is always going to explore every opportunity to maximize its brands,'' said tobacco analyst Martin Feldman of Salomon Smith Barney. He noted that the tobacco industry agreed in the U.S. not to use cigarette brand names on any other forms of merchandise under the Master Settlement Agreement of late 1998.
Cigarette makers also face a series of advertising and marketing restrictions in Europe that were approved by the European Union and are expected to be phased in by member nations through 2006.
``While I think that the company will continue to look at how it can further derive value from Marlboro, I think it would be almost impossible for Philip Morris to use the Marlboro brand outside the tobacco industry,'' Feldman said.
``But I also think that many in the anti-tobacco community would protest vigorously the use of Marlboro as a brand name on hotels,'' he added. The move would give anti-tobacco advocates another platform to get their message out, Feldman said.
Analyst Bonnie Herzog of Credit Suisse First Boston said: ''I really, really doubt that they would have any interest in that,'' referring to the diversification of the Marlboro brand, adding ``There is no way I'm giving it any credence to the story.''