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Trinkets and Trash (T&T: www.trinketsandtrash.org) is a surveillance system and archive of tobacco industry products and promotions that regularly monitors tobacco product development and industry marketing, including magazine advertising, direct mail and promotional items. In the past year, T&T began to monitor tobacco brand websites, which we are finding to be an early warning system for tobacco brand promotions, images, and products.
In January 2006, Salem’s password protected website (www.salemaccess.com) underwent a major change in both look and content, one that appears to signal a new identity for the brand. The revamped Salem website went live online some time between 10–18 January 2006. Carried by the slogan “Refresh your Spirit”, the website replaces Salem’s most recent “Stir the Senses” dark campaign look of black and neon green colours with white and a natural green, for an overall lighter look and feel—apparently aiming at an image of lightness, health, nature and refreshment.
The main feature of the website as it stands now (there are some “coming soon” sections) are video clips that portray couples demonstrating different massaging techniques. Soothing music plays in the background, and various relaxing “earthy” products such as aroma candles and sound machines are featured. Most of the images of people featured on the site are white and female, and little about the website would indicate to a user that this was a website for a cigarette brand. In fact, overall, one could easily mistake Salem’s website for that of a health spa.
These images and themes stand in rather stark contrast to Salem’s last run of popular advertising. 2004’s “Stir the Senses” neon green and black ads had mysterious and ethereal themes and most often featured models from minority backgrounds, or used urban references such fast-paced city scenes and lights. Salem’s “Stir the Senses Tour Series”, also promoted in 2004, featured hip-hop themes, and was presumably targeted at a younger more urban and minority based audience. Although magazine advertising was noticeably absent in 2005, direct mail during that time at first echoed “Stir the Senses” themes and then hinted at the upcoming campaign by introducing the “Refresh Your Spirit Gateway” Sweepstakes, with the grand prize of a spa getaway break.
So what’s the reason for the sudden shift? One section of the site is dedicated to Salem’s “50th Anniversary Celebration”, an event that may provide a logical time for doing something new. What seems likely to be a more important reason, however, is that since the acquisition of Brown & Williamson in 2003, RJ Reynolds (RJR) now owns both KOOL and Salem, historically menthol brand competitors, and needs to develop stronger brand differentiation to maximise profits.
Finally, and of particular concern, the revised website suggests a coming campaign in which a tobacco brand tries to promote, or at least imply, perceptions of naturalness and health. Because Salem is one of RJR’s “selective-supported” brands, which receive limited marketing support compared to Camel and KOOL, we may not see an explosion of promotional materials, but we can be sure whatever is developed will be carefully crafted and promoted. For this reason, tobacco control professionals should closely monitor Salem promotions and begin to plan appropriate advocacy activities.