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Tobacco ad ban: Different strokes for different folks

05-March-2004
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Tobacco ad ban: Different strokes for different folks

Are cigarette and tobacco product companies going on a flurry to make the most of the fast approaching May 1 deadline, when the advertising ban on these products comes into effect?

A mixed trend is emerging, if one were to go by the media plans of the cigarette and tobacco product manufacturers in the recent weeks.

While some of them such as Godfrey Phillips India (GPI) have not been enthused to pursue "acceleration or preponement" of advertisements as a strategy, there are others pressing the accelerator.

The pan masala companies for instance, have been sponsoring recent film awards, while ITC has been prominently advertising in some of the well-known international publications.

"We have advised our top management that preponement and intensity would not be the right approach for us. What will we do after May 1? We believe that once you are out of sight, you are out of mind. So we will not adopt acceleration or preponement", Ms Nita Kapoor, Senior Vice-President-Marketing, GPI, told Business Line.

She made it clear that GPI would "walk away from the media" from May 1 and focus on on-ground activities.

According to Mr Tapas Gupta, Managing Director, Confluence Communication Ltd, which handles the Golden Tobacco Company (GTC) ad account, "There is an overdrive, particularly amongst relatively new brands to establish presence amongst the smoker universe.

While old and established brands such as Wills filter or Gold Flake may not need great efforts to create top of mind recall through mass media, newer brands or variants of the existing brands will have to spend. "And they are currently going the whole hog before the ban is enforced."

The total advertising spend in print and television by the tobacco companies is estimated to be about Rs 200 crore. Advertising tracking agency, AdEx India's estimates suggest that pan masala, zarda, gutka, cigarettes and bidi account for 1.6 per cent of the total advertising revenues for the first three quarters of 2003.

Of this, pan masala accounted for 65.7 per cent, cigarettes 32.4 per cent and bidis for 1.9 per cent. Also, while pan masalas prefer to advertise on television, cigarettes prefer the print medium.

"During the last eight days before the UK closed for tobacco companies to advertise, the industry went on a major ad blitzkrieg," said an industry official. So will Indian companies mirror the UK trend during the last week before the ban comes into force? One will have to wait and watch.

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