As the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. The smoking ban in England means that for tobacco companies the doors to pubs – and all other enclosed public places – are firmly shut but the ban may have opened up a host of new marketing possibilities.
The Gallaher Group, whose brands include Benson & Hedges, Silk Cut and Mayfair, has trademarked “Stub-Tidy” and “Keep our Environment Tidy”, leading to speculation that it is planning to launch a range of products for people going outside to smoke. While it will not comment specifically on its plans, it says it is “looking at the opportunities” created by the smoking ban.
Some industry experts believe Gallaher may be considering a similar initiative to one employed by Lucky Strike and Rothmans owner BAT in Australia, where the company provides receptacles for litter generated by smokers.
Smoking areas cannot be branded – use of logos and brand names could be seen as aggressive marketing – but experts say that it is possible to use colour and style in subtle ways to create a signature environment.
The anti-smoking organisation ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) says corporate social responsibility has become increasingly important to tobacco companies as they try to portray themselves in the best possible light.
An ASH spokeswoman adds: “It’s a bit of a cheek really, considering they are the cause of the problem, but it does give them credibility of a sort. However, in our view, corporate responsibility schemes really amount to very little more than a PR exercise.”
Observers point out that bans and restrictions often provoke the best creative work. In cigarette marketing, some of the most inventive work was inspired by the initial ban on showing somebody smoking in 1986.
In the face of today’s tougher censorship, tobacco companies have to come up with new ways to promote their brands. Packaging is one area where designers have some scope and introduced a slide-opening pack for B&H Silver last year.
Nick Verebelyi, head of 3D branding at Design Bridge, says: “Smoking is becoming a luxury and more indulgent and original packing will reflect this.”
Manufacturers can also promote through brand extensions. Philip Morris has stretched the Marlboro brand with the Marlboro Classics range of lifestyle products including bags, jackets and jeans. Similarly, Camel sells a range of boots.
While pack design and brand extensions are routes tobacco companies can take to promote their brands without infringing rules, an ASH report criticises BAT for “subverting the advertising ban in the UK”.
The report says BAT targets young people to create a word of mouth “buzz”. Bars popular with celebrities exclusively sell BAT brands. ASH claims BAT hopes to create an association between trendsetters and its brands, citing the example of musician Pete Doherty, who has frequently been seen smoking Lucky Strike. However, a BAT spokeswoman says the claim is “ridiculous”.
Flavoured tobacco is popular in Asia but has yet to be exploited in Western markets and experts say we can also expect to see a resurgence of smokeless tobacco products. Zuka, a new snuff-style product, is due to go on sale later this month.
It may be that the smoking ban encourages some people to give up but, with some innovative thinking, many believe the tobacco companies can remain in good health.