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Listening between the lines: what BAT really thinks of its consumers in the developing world
  1. M E Muggli,
  2. R D Hurt
  1. St Paul, Minnesota, USA
  1. Correspondence to: Monique E Muggli, 1345 Osceola Avenue, St Paul, MN 55105, USA; mmuggli{at}attbi.com

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In an audio recording of the “Structured Creativity Conference” held in Hampshire, UK in June 1984, British American Tobacco (BAT) adds context to the written report of marketing and product applications.1 Employees are taped brainstorming creative ways to push their product in light of future marketing constraints and social pressure towards a smoke-free society. Project proposals included the following: low sidestream smoke cigarettes,2 “front end lift” cigarette design to give the smoker more “impact” on the first puffs,3 pleasant smelling sidestream smoke,4 and nicotine inhalers—“Forget about smoking . . . GO FOR A QUICKEEK. No tar with nic, is what makes the body kick.”5

One of the most interesting proposals came from Ian Ross from a Finland subsidiary, who later became the head of international brand business at BATCo in the early 1990s. Ross’s proposal, the “LDC (less developed counties) Project”,6 called for individually heat sealed cigarettes designed to lengthen the shelf life of cigarettes in arid climates found in Africa and the Middle East. This rather ingenious idea for stick sales would be sold to tobacco vendors in reels with visible brand imaging, containing 200 cigarettes that could be pulled off along perforations one at a time.

What the 80 or so page written report did not include, the audiocassette captured with clarity. The taped conversations of the BAT conference participants offered rarely obtained loose discourse regarding product design proposals and a derogatory discussion of the people intended for end product use.

Ross relays that he wants to make “stick purchases seem like a consumer benefit” by supplying “factory sealed and factory freshness” every time. As for marketing the heat sealed stick product, Ross states: “ . . .[T]he brand image must be enhanced by the new packaging . . .if you just say, this is a cheap cigarette for you dirt poor little black farmers . . .they’re not going to go for it.”

Ross also discusses the target group—“urban”, “male”, between 18–30, and “aspiring lower middle” socioeconomic class—and says: “I have not gone into psychographics . . . I have no idea what the psychographics of the average black farmer is.”

Another conference participant ruminates, “We could sell them to the Palestinians if we made the plastic hard enough that you could rip the end off and put your shells in them...”

This discourse, not found on the written presentation, between the BAT marketing and product development personnel was obviously not meant for public consumption, nor is it new information that the tobacco industry targets the developing world. A patent search in the UK resulted in no individually heat sealed cigarette applications.

What is of great interest to those of us who spend our time searching through page after page of internal tobacco industry documents is the significant difference between what is written and what is said. David Schechter, the former BAT lawyer, recently explained the “mental copy rule” to the US Department of Justice, which assumed that anything one would write could end up being used publicly or legally against the company.7 This leads to the obvious question: Are we overlooking important research tools in the form of non-written material?

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