CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/TOBACCO ADVERTISING; Is Hamlet’s return to the cinema perfectly timed?

Hamlet’s move back on to the big screen is no great surprise, Karen Yates says

Hamlet’s move back on to the big screen is no great surprise, Karen

Yates says

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

up to.

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.’

Leader, p23

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


Voluntary codes

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.

Cigarette code

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.

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