Smokers drawn in by creative puffing
It has been more than a year since the 64-foot-high cut-out of the brooding Marlboro Man loomed over Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, California. The catchy radio jingle "Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco" is long gone too. Traditional cigarette advertising,
Two years ago in the US, tobacco producers and 46 states reached a $206bn master settlement agreement (MSA) in which cigarette companies agreed to curtail the traditional sponsorship and branding they have long used to promote cigarettes. The agreement also banned the use of cartoon characters, product placement in movies and advertisements in magazines aimed at young readers.
What now for cigarette manufacturers anxious to reach an increasingly distant and elusive clientele?
Tobacco companies are some of the largest advertisers in the US, with billions of dollars set aside for promotion, but few places to spend it. With cigarettes being denounced as relentlessly as ever, big tobacco companies are seeking new ways to reach consumers.
The techniques they develop will be watched by marketers everywhere. Advertisers are keen to get closer to their consumers using "one-to-one" marketing, sales pitches and, ultimately, products tailored for individual customers. Tobacco companies might help point the way forward.
"They have a list of names of people who are using their products and they are rewarding them. It's a fairly expensive way to go," says Ira Teinowitz, the Washington Bureau Chief for Advertising Age.
Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro, the world's best-selling packaged product, spends more than $2bn a year on advertising.
"The MSA has changed the landscape for us," says Kati Otto, manager of media affairs at Philip Morris USA. "We have to be creative in reaching out to our adult consumers."
The company's "Marlboro Ranch" parties, often held in bars in big cities, have become a common feature of American nightlife. They are heavily advertised.
These sweepstakes, in their third year, send winners to a five-day ranch holiday in "Marlboro Country", mountainous western states such as Montana and Arizona.
Guests also take home various prizes: cameras, sunglasses, jackets and bags - all in Marlboro colours.
"The Marlboro Ranch parties enhance brand value, and reinforce loyalty to the brand," Ms Otto says. "It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and people tend to come back as loyal Marlboro smokers."
"This kind of advertising is very niche-oriented," according to David Adelman, a tobacco analyst for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. "People tend to smoke the cigarettes their friends smoke and brands have momentum. It is very hard to get people to try a new brand because it is about loyalty, image and taste."
The MSA also put an end to another popular promotion - cigarette manufacturers can no longer exchange lighters, clothing and other products bearing their logos for Marlboro Miles and Camel Cash coupons included in cigarette packs.
But the tobacco companies wisely retained the list of past customers who redeemed those slips, and those names are part of a database used for marketing.
Four times a year in the US, R. J. Reynolds sends a glossy 16-page magazine to loyal Doral brand smokers who number more than 1m. "Relationship marketing is the cornerstone of our advertising," says Doral. "The direct-mail piece 'Doral & Co' has got restaurant reviews, recipes and also coupons for our products."
In addition, R. J. Reynolds sponsors regular smoker-appreciation parties in various cities around the US. The celebrations involve games and country music with cigarettes given away as prizes.
Another approach in a country where smokers are often vilified is to treat them like normal human beings. During the cold winter months, people from Brown and Williamson Tobacco, the maker of the Kool brand, go to office buildings in cities such as New York and Chicago and hand out hot mugs of coffee to smokers banished from their warm offices.
"It is really to let consumers know that we understand them, we treat them with respect and we care," says Brown and Williamson. "The brand is trying to get personal."