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
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.
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.
TOBACCO ADS ON TRIAL
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%