CAMPAIGN INTERNATIONAL: ISSUE - US TOBACCO ADVERTISING. No more space for US tobacco giants. Felix Salmon finds that tobacco companies are moving carefully in response to a ban on outdoor

Tobacco companies in the US are on the defensive. Long banned from radio and TV, they signed a dollars 206 billion settlement last November with 46 states to prevent future legal action and, within the agreement, submitted to a complete ban on all outdoor advertising from 23 April this year.

Tobacco companies in the US are on the defensive. Long banned from

radio and TV, they signed a dollars 206 billion settlement last November

with 46 states to prevent future legal action and, within the agreement,

submitted to a complete ban on all outdoor advertising from 23 April

this year.

But while in the UK necessity would be the mother of invention, in the

US the ban is leading to further introspection and nervousness about

rocking boats. It’s as though the tobacco companies fear that the more

their ads are noticed, the more they’ll be attacked by individuals,

federal and national government. ’Politically, it’s difficult to

advertise,’ Gary Black, tobacco analyst at the investment bank, Sanford

Bernstein, says.

Philip Morris, which owns the cigarette brand, Marlboro, for instance,

has no interest in blowing its own trumpet when it comes to its

marketing strategies. It has instructed its advertising agencies (Leo

Burnett and Young & Rubicam) not to talk to the press, and would go on

the record only to say: ’As a matter of policy, Philip Morris does not

provide copies of its advertising to anyone, including media


But the company’s adspend is enormous - in the first 11 months of 1998,

it spent dollars 213 million on advertising, according to Competitive

Media Reporting, about half of an estimated industry total of dollars

429 million.

While other companies, most notably its great rival, RJR Nabisco

Tobacco, dream up innovative campaigns, the Marlboro man is more or less

unchanged from decades ago. His very familiarity has the positive effect

for Philip Morris of making him a fundamental part of the American

psyche and he has fallen beneath the radar of the anti-tobacco


Marlboro is the largest cigarette brand in the US - its total adspend,

about dollars 127 million last year, made it the 67th biggest brand in

the US, and the only cigarette in the top 150. While dominating the

marketplace, Marlboro seems content to continue outspending everyone.

’We have no plans to do anything extraordinary,’ one senior source close

to the brand says.

Outdoor advertising accounted for 37 per cent of Marlboro’s total

adspend in 1998. But once it’s banned, the company has no plans to spend

any less.

’We are going to continue to market using the means that are still

available to us,’ the executive says. ’This is not unlike what happened

in the 1970s.

Above the line might reduce a little bit, but not that much.’

Marlboro’s main rival, Kamel - the Camel sub-brand - has a bigger


The settlement that banned outdoor also banned cartoon characters in the

advertising, promotion, packaging or labelling of tobacco products. The

ban was aimed squarely at Joe Camel, and forced RJR Nabisco to rethink

the entire brand. ’We have been working for several years to reposition

our key brands,’ an RJR Nabisco Tobacco spokesperson says. RJR’s two key

brands - the second and third largest cigarette brands in America - are

Kamel and Winston, and recently it has been pouring resources into Salem

as well.

Kamel now turns up in many different guises. Most cigarettes bought at

newsagents in the US come with a matchbook, and Kamel’s matchbook

designs are original and diverse. Kamel also signs up bars, which often

give prominence to spin-off brands such as Kamel Reds.

Winston has tried to get around the abolition of billboards by shrinking

them to the size of a cigarette package. The new design is spread across

the entire packet - ’Win’ appears on the front, ’s’ on the edge, and

’ton’ on the back. Winston’s selling point is the fact that it is ’100

per cent additive free’, although recently it has been forced to

emphasise that the lack of additives in its cigarettes doesn’t make them


RJR Nabisco is spending more time and money on retail outlets. Not only

are they the places where the cigarette packs are displayed, but they

are also the only places where any outdoor advertising is still allowed

- up to 14 square feet. ’POP has always been important and now they’re

giving greater attention to visibility in the retail venue,’ Martin

Feldman, tobacco analyst at the investment bank, Salomon Smith Barney,


In general, industry observers agree that, although, in the words of the

RJR Nabisco spokesperson, ’a traditional cigarette marketing vehicle has

been removed from our access,’ the loss of outdoor advertising is

unlikely to change the industry drastically. ’I can’t imagine total

advertising budgets falling much,’ Feldman says. He believes that US

companies are going to put the money they spent on outdoor advertising

and sponsorships into traditional marketing campaigns such as

discounting. ’In England, direct communications are a very important

part of the marketing process,’ he says, ’but in the US they’re not.’

There might also be more corporate sponsorships - while brands aren’t

allowed to sponsor events any more, tobacco companies still can.

Real innovation in tobacco advertising and marketing is likely to remain

outside the US for the foreseeable future. In America, tobacco is just

too fraught an area for companies to risk being seen to be too

innovative - it’s a strategy that could easily backfire on them in



- The deal was made between the tobacco companies and the 46 states with

which they had not yet reached an agreement

- Bans all outdoor advertising

- Bans use of cartoons in the advertising, promotion, packaging or

labelling of tobacco products

- Bans distribution and sale of apparel and merchandise with brand-name

logos (caps, T-shirts, backpacks, etc), from 1 July

- Prohibits brand-name sponsorship of events with a significant youth

audience, or team sports

- Limits tobacco companies to one brand-name sponsorship per year.


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