Tobacco companies employ dark marketing

Tobacco companies skirt ad bans with sneaky marketing tactics.

“If you buy a pack of Camels, you’ll gain access to the lounge bar where the view is better and get to take pictures with our models,” said a scantily-clad young lady standing behind a cigarette stand at the entrance to an all-night dance party on March 12.

The DJ party was an Urban Wave event, Camel Cigarette’s promotion company, which is licensed to Japan Tobacco International. And it took place in Kyiv’s 25,000 square-meter International Exhibition Center that easily fits 6,000 music revelers.

The ticket had radio station Kiss FM and MTV Ukraine listed as partners.

Both companies didn’t respond to Kyiv Post inquiries.

But what the majority of that evening’s 20-somethings didn’t know was that Urban Wave is JTI’s pseudo-brand.

Using social media like Facebook and involving international artists and DJs, Camel organizes musical events to draw public interest towards its brand indirectly in order to engage with existing or future smokers.

“The sole purpose of Urban Wave is to distribute cigarettes to their demographic inside the venue of these parties,” said Andriy Skipalsky, chairman of LIFE, a coalition of anti-tobacco non-profit organizations.

Skipalsky said this concept of “dark marketing,” although legal, is how tobacco companies increasingly engage with target market groups, namely youth.

“Its covert because it’s below the radar and once consumers are engaged with a pseudo-brand, the true brand – Camel – can engage with them,” he said. “It appears like any other form of human communication but it’s somewhat subversive because it intends to promote the cigarette brand’s interests.”

The activist said these events then capitalize on package imagery and design elements in order to build empathy with the target group.

“If you buy a package of cigarettes you are lured by questionable benefits — painting a life-size model of a Camel, or accessing a bar lounge — thus gettting to interact with the brand”, said Skipalsky.

Tobacco companies have a history of targeting youth in their marketing practices in order to replace older smokers who either quit or die from smoking-related diseases.

In Ukraine, 100,000 people die annually due to smoking while 29 percent of adults currently smoke tobacco, according to the 2010 Global Adult Tobacco Survey.
A 1975 RJ Reynolds internal company document cited the importance of getting young people hooked on cigarettes.

Anti-tobacco activists and health officials say more needs to be done to curtail young people from lighting up, make cigarettes less affordable for older smokers and greatly limit tobacco companies from developing relationships with existing and potential smokers.
“To ensure increased and longer-term growth for Camel Filter, the brand must increase its share penetration among the 14-24 age group which have a new set of more liberal values and which represent tomorrow’s cigarette business,” it reads.

Another RJ Reynolds internal memo circa 1984 states: “Younger adults are the only source of replacement smokers. Only 5 percent of smokers start after age 24.”

Numerous messages left with JTI’s spokesperson in Ukraine never were returned.

Increasingly, tobacco marketers are using covert marketing concepts since they are staring imminent regulation in the face.

Ukraine has already banned tobacco advertising in television, radio and the press as well as “external advertisement” such as billboards.

In March, Ukraine became the 40th country in the world to adopt pictorial warnings on tobacco product packaging, which will come into force on Sept. 30, 2012.
Despite these positive government moves, 45 percent of Ukrainians have noticed cigarette marketing in advertisements, sponsorship, or promotions, according to the 2010 Global Adult Tobacco Survey.

Anti-tobacco activists and health officials say more needs to be done to curtail young people from lighting up, make cigarettes less affordable for older smokers and greatly limit tobacco companies from developing relationships with existing and potential smokers.

“There are still other outlets for companies to engage with consumers,” said Kostiantyn Krasovsky, head of the tobacco unit for the Ukrainian Institute of Strategic Research under the Health Ministry.

Krasovsky said tobacco companies employ people to stand near tobacco kiosks, or points of sale, where they promote cigarettes, gather personal information to build databases from which direct mailing and other marketing techniques are used to reach out to consumers.

But a current bill in parliament could end all this.

A bill is registered that would ban all types of tobacco advertisements, including event sponsorships. More than 300 of the legislature’s 450 lawmakers voted for the bill in its first reading in 2010.

However, 71 proposed amendments to the bill have been made since, which health officials and activists said weaken the bill.

Lawmaker Olena Kondratiuk, who heads the bill’s parliamentary working group, said that despite the many changes proposed, the bill has a “high chance of making it through a second reading [thus becoming a law]” before parliament adjourns for the summer in July.

The complete advertising ban is supposed to bring Ukraine in line with the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which it signed in 2006.

- Natalia Korol, a national tobacco control officer at the WHO office in Ukraine.

She said that although she’s for banning sponsorships, the working group has had difficulty reaching consensus on defining online advertising as well as other details.

However, Kondratiuk said “overall the draft law still trumps public health over vested interests.”

The complete advertising ban is supposed to bring Ukraine in line with the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which it signed in 2006, said Natalia Korol, a national tobacco control officer at the WHO office in Ukraine.

The framework foresees nations implementing price and tax measures to reduce the demand for tobacco while ensuring protection from exposure to tobacco smoke, regulation of tobacco product disclosures and banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, among other measures.

Meanwhile, tobacco companies aren’t stopping. JTI’s Urban Wave held another dance party in Kyiv on May 8.

Kyiv Post staff writer Mark Rachkevych can be reached at [email protected]

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