David Blecken
Sep 5, 2018

BAT takes to TV to reframe the image of smoking

The tobacco firm treads a similar path to Japan Tobacco with a corporate branding message touting a future in which smokers and non-smokers live in harmony.

British American Tobacco (BAT) has released its first corporate branding TV campaign in Japan as competition around smoke-free products intensifies.

The 15-second ad promotes the idea of greater unity between smokers and non-smokers. The company says it wants to create a future where both camps can “enjoy together”.

The message is apparently based on BAT’s recent development of vapour and heated tobacco products, including Vype and glo, which compete with Philip Morris International’s Steem and IQOS brands. As with IQOS, Japan was the launch market for glo, which became available in 2016. Japan Tobacco (JT), which is one third government-owned, launched a product called Ploom Tech last June and plans to launch a further product this year, according to Reuters.

While tobacco companies are allowed to advertise their corporate brands on TV, regulations prevent them from showcasing their products or individual brands directly. As a result, BAT’s ad presents social situations and leaves it to the viewer to imagine some of the people in them smoking—or rather, inhaling minus the smoke. In the final scene, two responsible-looking partygoers raise their arms suggestively.

Masahiro Yoshida, a spokesperson for BAT Japan, said the company "just wanted to deliver the corporate message that no one should be annoyed by unwanted smoke or smell of tobacco and BAT should pursue ways to reduce smoke and its potential risk on health". Yoshida declined to comment on how BAT plans to set its individual smoke-free brands apart from the competition.

The spot is a less subtle equivalent of corporate branding work by JT. The company has produced a wide range of TV commercials in recent years with a similar message of inclusiveness as well as discussing themes like smoking etiquette.

Last month, a spokesperson for Philip Morris International said it plans to work to update restrictions around the marketing of smoke-free tobacco products globally.

Campaign’s view: For a long time, JT has been the only tobacco company with any visibility on TV in Japan, but the growth prospects offered by the ‘potentially reduced-risk products’ (PRRP) sub-sector suggest that the platform is likely to become more crowded despite restrictions.

As for BAT’s message, no one wants to be treated like a leper, so the prospect of being able to hold a conversation without ‘stepping outside’ every few minutes is obviously attractive for smokers, and presumably for their friends too. BAT lags PMI's IQOS in terms of market share in Japan but has a  head start on JT, having introduced its PRRP products slightly earlier.

However, this proposition is not unique to BAT, and compared to JT’s slickly produced work, which is arguably some of the most attractive branding in any sector on TV, the effort appears rather crude. The broader question for both companies is whether the average smoker cares about corporate brands and will draw any link with the new brands they see at ground level.

Updated to include comment from BAT spokesperson Masahiro Yoshida.

Campaign Japan

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