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When BAT's Indian subsidiary, ITC, announced a self imposed ban on tobacco promotion early this year, it placed large advertisements in leading newspapers announcing it would be stopping all sports sponsorship as part of the deal. This included its major support of cricket, the national game with near cult status among the young; India's famous cricket team was sponsored by Wills. Few can have thought that ITC/BAT had suffered a crise de conscience, and even if some optimists thought the company might find it more difficult to associate its lethal product with healthy sporting images, they cannot have doubted that it would be working on a contingency plan. Very soon, at least part of that plan was revealed—not just a contingency, but a whole new strategy not only to make up for the loss of sports sponsorship, but to take the company into a new era of tobacco promotion.
The trouble with sport in a country like India is that its appeal is mainly to boys and men. An unbelievably large pot of gold awaits cigarette companies who can entice Indian women, who apart from a few pockets of traditional forms of tobacco use, are non-smokers, to take up smoking. So what better than a plan that not only links Wills cigarettes with sports, but also adds fashionable, chic, successful and smart associations, with equal potential to appeal to girls and young women as to their male counterparts? Step forward Wills Sport, the latest name in fashion wear now being promoted in Indian cities in the press, at gleaming new Wills Lifestyle shops, and via the internet. With complementary ranges of designer items aimed at both sexes, it looks as if this self proclaimed responsible company has found an effective new way of promoting its wares with desirable, healthy, and clean images, thereby minimising public perception of any association with addictiveness, cancer, respiratory illness, and cardiovascular disease, and the smell and stain of the several thousand chemicals produced in every puff of its products.
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