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A Review of Cigarette Marketing in Canada - Premiere Edition - Autumn 1998

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Export A Ads are Extremely Expert, Eh?

by Richard Pollay
Professor of Marketing,
Curator, History of Advertising Archives
University of British Columbia

The current R.J.Reynolds-Macdonald advertising campaign for Export A, which features solo athletes from the many and various extreme sports events that they sponsor with the slogan "Go Your Own Way," contains almost all of the elements that its competitors, its US parent and other US firms have found to be so vital and necessary to the commercial success of cigarette brands and industry.

The Extreme Challenge Export A Faces

The tobacco industry faces many serious business and legal problems, including growing public knowledge of the high levels of risk from smoking, suits seeking damage compensation, regulatory and political initiatives constraining advertising and marketing practices (e.g. plain packaging, retail sales to minors, etc) , and a total market whose size has been diminishing with the quitting and dying of existing smokers. Maximizing profit under these conditions is a daunting task.

 

Xtreme matches
The Extreme Importance of Smokers

Cigarette brands enjoy a phenomenally high rate of brand loyalty, higher than seen in any other consumer good. Annual brand switching rates are very low, even when including the switching that has no appreciable health or commercial consequences, i.e. within a brand family, such as from Brand X Mild to Brand X Light. While both the industry apologists and critics often use a ballpark figure of only 10% of smokers switching per year, the most recent figures I’ve seen for the U.S. indicate even less than this modest amount – from 4-8% a year according to documents produced by RJR (US).

Those who do switch are few in number, often anxious about health risks, and demonstrably fickle, making them a small and unattractive base for building business. In contrast, because of the high brand loyalty and year to year retention of customers, capturing starters builds a solid franchise base. The firms that succeed in capturing starters soon dominate the industry, as well evidenced by both Player’s in Canada and Marlboro in the US. Put most simply, to succeed in Marlboro Country, you got to corral ‘em while they’re young and brand ’em while they’re young.

The Canadian tobacco industry has long understood this fact of their life, with internal documents saying: "Young smokers represent the major opportunity group for the cigarette industry." Imperial Tobacco concluded that "If the last ten years have taught us anything, it is that the industry is dominated by the companies who respond most effectively to the needs of younger smokers. Our effort on these brands will remain on maintaining their relevance to smokers in these younger groups" (emphasis in original)

 


In-store display

"The industry is dominated by the companies who respond most effectively to the needs of younger smokers."
Imperial Tobacco said it - but it's RJR-Macdonald which placed this cigarette ad above the comics in  Mac's Milk

Export A versus Player’s

During the last two decades, Export A has suffered greatly in its competition with Imperial Tobacco’s Player’s brand. When Player’s modernized its image with ads associating the brand with recreational sports like hang gliding, mountain climbing and wind surfing, Export A was left behind with a blue collar truck driver image. No matter how realistically this reflects the social class realities of actual and potential smokers, it fails to capture the aspirations of the young.

 

Market Share of Player's and Export A Cigarettes
1978, 1988 and 1998

1978

1988

1998

Player's

14.6%

24.0%

28.0%

Export

16.7%

11.8%

11.5%

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Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada
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