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British American Tobacco (BAT) does not seem to have much confidence in some of the salespeople it recruits, if a staff training film made by the company is anything to go by. Apparently made originally for use in Malaysia, mostly with Malaysian Chinese models, the film shows how young saleswomen, smartly dressed in gold, the brand colour of Benson & Hedges cigarettes, should ask men to try the brand, how to light the men’s cigarettes, and generally how to comport themselves when trying to win new customers in a variety of settings.
The film was also used in Nigeria; whether BAT sales executives thought about possible identification problems among the lucky young Nigerian women being trained is not known. Of more concern to the sales team, apparently, were issues about personal presentation and behaviour.
Separate sequences dealt exhaustively with the young saleswomen’s working day. Each began by urging them to “Start with a good wash!”, and a reminder to do their make-up carefully. In addition to personal cleanliness and appearance, and of course the need for politeness at all times, the film covers other conduct that one might think BAT could take for granted, and which in any case is unlikely to be altered by a training film.
In a sequence dealing with promoting cigarettes inside a department store, for example, a young saleswoman is seen eyeing a display of soft toys. The voice-over exhorts the audience to respect the host company’s merchandise when, horror of horrors, the gold-clad model picks up one of the toys and discreetly tucks it inside her jacket. “Don’t shoplift!”, instructs the voice-over, and to make sure the point is not lost, this unequivocal instruction appears superimposed on the freeze-framed shot of the precise moment of theft. BAT sales staff: nice people to do business with.