ANALYSIS: Can F1 win it for Winfield? - A roar of red replaces Rothmans’ King Size blue as the tobacco giant switches its Formula 1 sponsorship to the Winfield brand. Danny Rogers looks at what may emerge from the pits

If sponsorship is all about association, it’s difficult to imagine a better image for a brand than 1997 Grand Prix world champion Jacques Ville-neuve roaring home at Jerez in his Rothmans-tattooed Williams-Renault car, then spraying champagne all over his heroically-oiled Rothmans racing suit.

If sponsorship is all about association, it’s difficult to imagine

a better image for a brand than 1997 Grand Prix world champion Jacques

Ville-neuve roaring home at Jerez in his Rothmans-tattooed

Williams-Renault car, then spraying champagne all over his

heroically-oiled Rothmans racing suit.

But no longer, it seems. The Williams racing team will look very

different for the next two years. Rothmans is replacing its blue King

Size branding with the red livery of its Winfield cigarettes. Yes,

Winfield. A brand that few people have heard of here because it’s not

even on sale.

From the pits of F1 to the boardrooms of the marketing community, the

announcement has raised more than a few eyebrows.

Such anonymity is likely to change very quickly. Rothmans will spend

tens of millions of pounds launching Winfield on to the world stage via

F1, an investment that will reap a TV audience of around 350 million

viewers per race.

Jim Wright, marketing director of Williams Grand Prix Engineering, also

hinted at plans to launch Winfield in the UK, which an agency source

believes will require a further pounds 10m in poster and press


Unfortunately, Rothmans refuses to comment on its strategy for Winfield,

so one has to second guess its motives using a combination of history

and marketing logic.

While Villeneuve’s Rothmans logo may have pipped Michael Schumacher’s

Marlboro livery to F1 glory, the tobacco marketing grand prix is a very

different story. The truth is that there’s still only one premium,

global cigarette brand: Philip Morris’s Marlboro.

Taking on Marlboro

A senior sponsorship consultant says: ’Marlboro’s domination of the

global cigarette market is increasing. Its power comes from its gigantic

share of 16- to 34-year-old urban, more affluent male smokers, and

Formula 1 is one of the ways in which this audience can be reached.’

British American Tobacco, Philip Morris’s biggest challenger, has

recently stressed its determination to match PM pound for pound, and is

busy finalising plans for its own F1 team, which would almost certainly

be used to promote the global status of its Lucky Strike or State

Express 555 brands.

While Rothmans is a considerably smaller company than BAT or PM, it is

fighting for the same markets and the same exposure. But Jonathan Fell,

tobacco analyst at stockbrokers Merrill Lynch, believes F1 has so far

failed to deliver Rothmans’ holy grail

’Rothmans has seen a lot of success with the Williams team, but sales

are still declining. Its established international brands - Rothmans

King Size, Dunhill and Peter Stuyvesant - have an ageing profile and are

losing market share. It needs to invest in other brands which can

attract a new bunch of younger smokers.’

Success down under

So is Winfield the company’s great white hope?

It certainly has some pedigree in taking on the big boys and


Winfield’s biggest claim to fame is as an antipodean success story. It

was originally launched in Australia in the 1970s as a challenger to

Marlboro and Gallaher’s Benson & Hedges. The brand was promoted on TV by

a young Australian comedian called Paul Hogan using a highly

nationalistic positioning.

Twenty years later Hogan’s Crocodile Dundee persona was world famous and

Winfield 25s was Australia’s biggest cigarette brand.

More recently Winfield has been rolled out in European countries such as

France and Spain, where it has quickly snatched market share with an

aggressive pricing strategy.

Mismatch feared

Such tactical successes aside, there is doubt as to whether Winfield can

really become the youthful, global icon from which Rothmans would


Fell observes: ’Rothmans has tried to launch other ’good value’ brands

into Europe such as Golden American and Royals, but while they have

initially stolen market share, smokers have not stuck with them and they

have ultimately failed.’

There does seem to be a fundamental contradiction in Rothmans using the

world’s most glamorous sport to build what, until now, has been a value


One agency source believes this is unimportant, as any brand will

benefit from F1 exposure. Another, more sceptical, commentator suggests

that the decision to put Winfield on Williams may in truth be driven by

economics, with Rothmans Australia overflowing with promotional money

due to the country’s tobacco advertising blackout.

Rothmans’ true plans for Winfield should emerge over the next couple of

months. Only then will we see whether there is a genius method behind

its apparent madness, or whether these are the short-term tactics of a

company under intense shareholder pressure.


The changing outlook for tobacco manufacturers in 97.

- May 1 : Labour swept to power with a manifesto pledging to ban tobacco


- May 20: Health secretary Frank Dobson confirmed that the ban would

extend to sponsorship. The presumption was that this would include F1


- September: The government hinted that it would seek a total blackout

of tobacco promotion, including direct marketing and point-of-sale


- November: Health minister Tessa Jowell announced that the government

would be exempting F1 sponsorship from its tobacco advertising ban.

After its previous ’hardball’ approach, this looked like a climbdown.

There were also reports that direct marketing would be subject to a

stiffer voluntary code rather than EU legislation.

In the same week, preliminary figures for the 1996 UK General Household

Survey by the Office for National Statistics revealed smoking was up for

the first time in 25 years. Smoking among men aged 25-34 rose to 38%

from 34% a year earlier and, among women of the same age, it rose to 34%

from 30%.


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