War clouds are gathering over the tobacco market. Racing to beat a blanket ban on tobacco advertising that will come into force within a few months, cigarette companies are swinging into action with product launches and new packs, matching each other puff for puff. ITC, Godfrey Philips and VST are launching one brand after another in a last-ditch bid to catch the attention of smokers. As a tobacco company executive succinctly puts it, “The law won't come into effect for at least another six months. All of us are making allocations so that we can use this window, for the last time, to the maximum.”
In the news is Red & White from the 1,100-crore Godfrey Phillips stable, which unveiled its revamped pack in the Capital yesterday. Changes in packaging include the outer bundling, the pack itself, the tear tape and the pack insert, giving the brand a fresh new look. However, the pricing and the taste of the cigarette remain the same.
What prompted the new pack? Counter-questions A. R. Anand, Executive Vice President, (Marketing), Godfrey Phillips, “Why not have a new pack? Red & White has a significantly high presence in New Delhi with a sizeable share of the overall market. Our new pack strategy is a conscious, deliberate attempt to rejuvenate the brand.”
The restrictions on tobacco advertising have sent advertisers, media planners and agencies into a huddle; it is an Rs 1.5-crore advertising extravaganza going up in smoke. In this light, how does Red & White plan to promote its new pack? Anand tells exchange4media, “We don’t know the manner in which the ban on advertising will take shape; at the moment, a blanket ban has not been implemented but we are preparing for it by increasing ground-level activities and consumer promotions, and relying less on mass media. 95% of our ad budgets have been streamlined into ground activation and only 5% is reserved for mass media. Our focus is on unveiling the new pack at retail conferences. Additionally, a teaser campaign with the tagline ‘Red & White peene waalon ki baat hi kuch hai’is in place. Our concentration is on all major publications, especially the vernacular.” Everest holds the advertising account of the brand.
Did Philips Morris play a role in the new packaging? “We are constantly in discussion with Philips Morris for pack changes and product developments. The Red & White pack change also comes from Philips Morris. Although it might look very simple now that the new pack has been launched, it took over a year’s research and constant dialogue with Philips Morris before the new design could be implemented,” clarifies Anand.
And has the new pack lit up the mid-segment? “It has been very well received. The success of the new pack when it was recently test marketed in Chandigarh has spurred the almost immediate national rollout,” reveals Anand.
Dividing the market into phases, following the launch in Chandigarh and New Delhi, Red & White will roll out its new pack in the rest of Punjab and Haryana in the course of January ’04.
On retrospection, it is not a good time to be in the tobacco business. Sustained activities from numerous pressure groups have seen anti-tobacco legislation come into force throughout the world. Can these companies keep it up after the advertising ban comes into force? That's tough to predict, but for now, tobacco companies are puffing away furiously at their last smokes…