Hamlet’s move back on to the big screen is no great surprise, Karen
Nearly two-thirds of the British public think there should be tighter
restrictions on tobacco advertising, and the ponderous might of the
European Commission is headed inexorably in that direction. So why has
Gallaher taken the contentious step of returning to cinema advertising
with Hamlet Cigars after an absence of seven years?
Gallaher and its agency, Collett Dickenson Pearce, didn’t break any
rules by returning to the big screen last month (Campaign, 26 January).
They simply exploited a loophole whereby only cigarettes and rolling
tobacco are covered by a voluntary ban on cinema advertising.
Nevertheless, it raised a few eyebrows - both among those who thought
smokes had gone from the flicks forever and observers who saw the timing
as rather controversial, given the current pressure being exerted by the
European Commission to reduce tobacco advertising even further
(Campaign, 20 October 1995).
Gallaher is preserving a dignified silence on the subject. And this has
served to stoke mounting speculation about what the tobacco giant may be
One theory put forward by the anti-tobacco lobby is that the upcoming
general election has precipitated Hamlet’s return. Both Labour and the
Liberal Democrats are committed to a complete ban on advertising for all
types of tobacco, except at point of sale. So, if Hamlet thinks there is
a good chance of Labour winning the next election, it may be running as
many cinema ads as it can in the meantime.
Hamlet’s absence from cinema advertising over the past seven years also
fits this theory. The leading cigar brand’s quiet disappearance from the
big screen coincided with the announcement in 1989 of an EU edict that
two years later would finally force all cigar and rolling tobacco ads
off TV. Hamlet’s response was to blitz TV consumers with a selection of
its vintage ads in the run-up to the ban, which came into force two
years later. This probably left little spare cash for cinema
The more Machiavellian element of the anti-smoking lobby suggests that
Hamlet may have cleared out of the cinema when the TV ban was mooted for
fear that people would spot that cigars were the only form of tobacco
that could be advertised with moving pictures. After all, cigarettes
have been banned from TV since 1965.
The pro-tobacco people - manufacturers, their ad agencies and support
groups - see nothing wrong or unusual about Hamlet’s return. They say
that in 1989 cinema attendances were declining and audiences were too
young to be big cigar smokers anyway - so of course Hamlet bowed out.
Another disadvantage of cinema advertising in the late 80s was that
films were softer. Distributors were cutting films to try to sneak them
into the 15-and-below category in an effort to appeal to as wide an
audience as possible. Since cigars were only advertised with 18-
certificate films, the argument goes that the vehicle of cinema
advertising was drying up anyway.
Now, seven years later, the 18-plus category is making a comeback with
the success of films such as Seven, Leaving Las Vegas and the
Underneath, and cinema audiences are soaring.
Audiences are also getting older, according to Peter Howard- Williams,
managing director of the cinema advertising company, Pearl and Dean. He
says that cinema audiences have been steadily rising from their 1989
level of 88 million a year and says that this year they are expected to
hit a dazzling 125 million. ‘We have a very good range of adult story-
telling- type movies coming out over the year, and we expect admissions
to be very good,’ he comments. Howard-Williams adds that the resurgence
in attendances has come from the over-20s.
It is also true that the Hamlet brand needs visual broadcasts more than
its main rival, Imperial Tobacco’s Castellas. Hamlet’s ‘Happiness is a
cigar called Hamlet’ ads were based on an unfolding of a tale of woe,
followed by a ‘Hamlet moment’ in which the beleaguered star forgets his
troubles as he smokes a cigar. More important, perhaps, is the need to
associate that moment with Hamlet’s signature tune, Air on a G String.
Posters don’t do that, and neither does radio.
Imperial Tobacco mourns the passing of TV ads, but, by contrast,
Castellas has little pedigree at the cinema. The company has no plans to
take the brand back to the medium just because Hamlet has.
So Hamlet’s return is unlikely to spark a cinema ad war. In fact, the
pro-tobacco lobby thinks cinema is such a benign medium that last week’s
fuss will soon die down.
Philip Circus, legal affairs director at the Institute of Practitioners
in Advertising, contends that audiences can be so tightly targeted in
the cinema that Hamlet’s return is hardly controversial. ‘The mistake
most people make about cinema is to equate it with TV. Because it’s on a
screen, they think it’s the same,’ he says.
Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, a longstanding opponent of tobacco advertising
and holder of the Government’s anti-smoking account, takes the opposite
view. Its deputy chairman, Adrian Vickers, says: ‘It seems to me that
Gallaher’s return highlights the absurdity of voluntary agreements that
allow advertising in some media and not in others. It’s as arbitrary as
making it legal to drive dangerously in a red car but not a blue one.’
Summary of the controls on tobacco advertising
T V/Radio bans
1965 The Postmaster-General, Tony Benn, introduces a total ban on
cigarette advertising on television, without recourse to legislation.
1991 A European Community directive prohibits the advertising of all
forms of tobacco on TV, thereby extending the ban to cigars and rolling
Tobacco products, advertising and promotion
This regulates the content of cigarette ads but not those for pipe
tobacco or cigars. It also governs the media that can be used for each
type of tobacco and theÿ20volume of advertising allowed. The code embraces
the mandatory health warnings on ads.
This covers the way advertising is handled and forms part of the British
Code of Advertising. Complaints are adjudicated by the Advertising
Standards Authority. The cigarette code prohibits, for example, ads that
appeal to the young, or anything that incites people to start smoking or
to smoke more. It also proscribes suggesting that smoking is ‘safe,
natural, healthy, necessary for relaxation or concentration’. The code
contains other ‘do nots’ in advertising.
Cigarette promotion code
This is mainly concerned with ensuring promotions are only directed at
smokers over 18 years of age. It restricts things such as free samples
and shop-front ads, and says where ads are not allowed to appear (such
as on video cassettes and in magazines aimed at children or women). It
also limits spending on posters and governs health warnings on packets.
Government rules on sponsorship
Sponsorship of sport
This restricts the sponsorship of sports where most of players are under
18. It also limits spending to 1985 levels, plus inflation, and ensures
that ads for sponsored events carry health warnings.