IQOS Brand Ambassadors and Influencers refer to Instagram users associated with the company who post IQOS-related material. Broadly speaking, influencers are social media users with large followings whom companies pay to post about or with their products. Meanwhile, IQOS Brand Ambassadors, who are most prominent in Romania, are users who post frequently with the device as a “hobby” but claim to be unpaid. While PMI previously paid influencers to promote IQOS, often through third party agencies, the company declared that it suspended its influencer campaign in May 2019 after Chris Kirkham of Reuters exposed the use of influencers under the age of 25—a violation of PMI’s internal standard for the minimum age of their models.
In late April 2019, two weeks before the suspension of the influencer campaign, IQOS hosted its largest influencer event yet to celebrate the release of the IQOS 3 Nippon model in Japan. Over 100 influencers, whose respective audiences ranged from 80,000 to 400,000 followers, each received a gift of a limited edition IQOS device in the traditional Japanese colors of red and white and were invited to the special event. The influencers then proceeded to flood Instagram with photos of themselves and their new devices with a pre-scripted caption and the hashtag #iqosアンバサダー (Japanese for “ambassador”). Though the event has passed, the Nippon influencer campaign reflects PMI’s willingness to invest in social media platforms, which are youth targeted at core.
PMI’s large-scale influencer program appears to have stopped, but smaller-scale Brand Ambassadors carry on IQOS’ often youth-oriented social media presence. These social media promoters’ posts, which portray IQOS devices, gifts, events, and spaces, convey leisure and imply that IQOS is the key to being an attractive and high-status person. IQOS Brand Ambassadors claim to not be paid, but they note receiving benefits including gifts and entry to events—benefits that double as a form of payment and make the line between Brand Ambassadors and influencers blurry. It is unclear how people become Brand Ambassadors and whether or not they are PMI employees, but it seems that the company reaches out to social media users who post about IQOS and gives them the Brand Ambassador title. Others may begin as IQOS Coaches and later start posting on social media as Brand Ambassadors. Some details of the Brand Ambassador program are still unknown to company outsiders, but their pervasive presence on social media is undeniable.
Philip Morris International is using the age-old strategy of using celebrities to drum up enthusiasm for its products. At the launch of its IQOS 3 device in Spain, it held a spectacular event at the Cibeles Palace in Madrid that was attended by a number of prominent celebrities including Monica Cruz, Paz Vega, Alberto Amman, Joaquin Reyes, Topacio Fresh and others. Jamiroquai front lined the event that was attended by more than 600 guests.
Studies have shown that celebrity endorsements adds value and significantly increases positive attitudes towards the brand. The effect is particularly strong among adolescents between the ages of 12 to 18 years. The proliferation of images of celebrities attending and using IQOS on social media platforms such as Instagram targets young people including non-tobacco users and exposes them to tobacco marketing that they otherwise would not have been exposed to.