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For most people in West Africa, the thought of owning any sort of hi-tech luxury goods is little more than a pipedream. A competition to win one of 50 mobile telephones, complete with an initial call charge credit, was therefore bound to be a hit in Togo, a small country wedged between Ghana and Benin above the Gulf of Guinea, where a mobile telephone costs more than a third of the average annual per capita gross domestic product.
Earlier this year Godfrey Philips, a subsidiary of ever crafty Philip Morris, came up with a promotion for its Bond Street cigarette brand, which exploited a popular misunderstanding. The name Bond has near legendary status among children, even those who do not attend school, thanks to the popularity of the James Bond adventure movies. His special agent's number 007 is to be found everywhere, especially on children's toys. Apparently, many children mistakenly believe that anything called Bond is associated with their hero.
Just as Bond the agent always gets the girl, played by an actress who was somewhat easy on the eye, so Bond Street the cigarette ran ads showing young men looking so happy, they must have just won either a phone, or the affections of the glamorous young woman beside them, or possibly both. As with 007's women, the models in the ads looked European, not African, just as many other African tobacco ads feature Americans or Europeans.
Entry to the draw was simple, and all over the country people rushed to buy the required pack of Bond Street. Entrants were not just the young people who seem to have been the main target: according to one report, even the poorest women who eke out a living by selling produce in the markets flocked to buy a pack, in the hope of winning their own mobiles. No doubt Philip Morris, which is spending millions of dollars to persuade the world it has changed its ways, would have answers to the obvious questions the competition raises about the ethics of promoting an addictive, lethal product to people locked in a daily struggle for the barest essentials of life. For increasing numbers of them, cigarettes will turn out to be the barest essentials of an early death.